The cast of "Motor City Live" is performing at the Hard Rock Atlantic City. That's right. Performing. For humans. Check it out.
The cast of "Motor City Live" is performing at the Hard Rock Atlantic City. That's right. Performing. For humans. Check it out.Thomas E.Briglia PhotoGraphics / Elite Casino Marketing

The Casino File: Hard Rock Atlantic City’s ‘Motor City Live’ is much-needed gift for entertainment-deprived

The music-themed gambling hall is leading the way when it comes to staging shows in the COVID-19 era.

Thank you, Hard Rock Hotel Casino Atlantic City.

Thank you Allen Valentine.

Thank you cast and crew of Motor City Live.

Thank you all for returning a piece of my life. A piece of my soul. A piece of why I wake up every morning.

My boundless gratitude to the casino, the show’s producer and its on- and offstage personnel, is for taking the bold-but-necessary step of returning show business to Atlantic City after more than a year. Using the few faculties my brain still allows me to access, I calculate that the last time I saw a performance on an Atlantic City stage was Thanksgiving Saturday 2019, when I took my 15-year-old self to Ocean Casino Resort to revel (pardon the pun) in the glory that is, was and always will be Alice Cooper. But I digress.

Last Saturday at the Hard Rock’s SoundWaves performance space, there were real people—four men and four women--making glorious sounds with only the factory-installed voices with which they were born. There were also two male and two female dancers moving in complex, athletic ways to visually punctuate the sounds emanating from the stage. And, best of all for these live-music-starved ears, there were five other individuals playing instruments that were plugged in, and not mere props wielded to disembodied pre-recorded tracks.

Sitting in the audience and telepathically hitching a ride in the “pocket” grooved out by the three-men-playing-as-one guitar-bass-drums rhythm section was true ecstasy. As was hearing the multi-faceted work of the two musicians manning a small arsenal of keyboards with which they cloned the sounds of horn and string sections, as well as bringing forth an endless array of piano, organ and synthesized sounds.

And then there were the true stars of the show, the irresistible rhythms and long-familiar lyrics, riffs and melodies of such Motown Records classics as “My Girl,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “I’ll Be There,” to name but a few of the immortal songs that comprise the Motor City Live repertoire.

To consider this 75 minutes of aural and visual nirvana a “fix” is grossly inadequate. It was far closer to 75 minutes of desperately needed, life-sustaining forces. In other words, talk about your joyous noise.

And that’s why, even if the Motown canon isn’t their particular cup of sonic tea, Motor City Live is a must-see for those to whom live music is a crucial part of one’s existence.

Of course, this wouldn’t have been the case had Motor City been poorly conceived, amateurishly executed and/or clumsily staged. But like its earlier incarnations, this production, which is scheduled to run twice Saturday and once on Sunday through Memorial Day weekend, is top-shelf all the way. The elements assembled by creator-producer Valentine are impeccable, and the choreography by Jillian Reed, costuming by Kristine Valentine and clever use of video clips add plenty of visual excitement.

If pressed to choose my favorite parts of the presentation, I’d have to start with the segment featuring the four female singers that kicked off with a ballad-ized version of “Baby Love” dedicated to the recently deceased original Supremes member, Mary Wilson, and the show-closing, nuclear-powered version of “River Deep, Mountain High,” (which is closer in spirit to Tina Turner’s Phil Spector-produced original version than the Supremes’ later cover) that alone is worth making the effort to see Motor City Live.

If there is a problem with the program, it has absolutely nothing to do with anyone involved and everything to do with the pandemic: Because of the stringent safety protocols imposed on and by Hard Rock—including a 150-person audience limit in a 1,500-seat room and an usher-conducted exit plan—guests are required to stay seated the entire show. This means they can’t get up and dance, as they have during previous editions of Motor City. This, in turn, prohibits the creation of an energy off of which the performers feed and thereby up their game.

But that is hardly a reason to miss this ultimately small, but highly consequential, step towards a return to at least a semblance of normalcy.

For tickets, click here.

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