Casino File: Hard Rock AC revives MTV decade hits with ‘80s Live’; Music on menu at Live!, Bally's eateries
Before a recent performance of 80s Live —veteran casino impresario Allen Valentine’s third revue for Hard Rock Hotel Casino Atlantic City—an usher named Carol told me that in her opinion, it was the best presentation to date. It’s not difficult to argue with that assessment.
To be sure, the show, which runs Sundays through June 19 at the Rock’s SoundWaves performance space, shares DNA with all of Valentine’s offerings—which means it’s expertly staged, filled with songs beloved of millions and relentlessly upbeat and energetic. But it does have one characteristic that separates it from its predecessors.
Both the Motown Records-centric Motor City Live and Disco Live were focused on specific segments of the pop music spectrum. But 80s Live is different—and ultimately more fun—because it encompasses a wide range of sonic blueprints, from the kick-out-the-jams rock of Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” and Joan Jett & The Blackhearts’ “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll,” to era-defining toe-tappers like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Madonna’s “Like A Virgin,” to the shimmering pop of Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (penned by the late Robert Hazard, a longtime South Jersey resident) and “Take on Me” by A-Ha.
Of course, the inherent nostalgia of such a hit-heavy set list makes 80s Live virtually foolproof: How can you not love hearing melodies and riffs that defined the MTV Era? Then again, the repertoire is meaningless without the talent to satisfactorily deliver it. And 80s Live certainly claims that.
The SoundWaves stage is filled to the brim with a battalion of performers comprised of eight vocalists, eight dancers and seven musicians. There are no weak links in the singing department: All eight are given a chance to shine, and all acquit themselves with distinction.
Helping keep things visually interesting is the dance troupe that ably delivers Jillian Reed’s animated choreography. And then there is the band.
Under the direction of bassist Arland Gilliam, who’s been an AyCee production show mainstay for decades, the septet of instrumentalists has the individual and collective chops to nimbly handle whatever sonic format is thrown its way.
Also enhancing the proceedings are the costumes designed by Valentine’s wife, Kristine. Suffice it to say the dancers look as if they just walked off the sets of Solid Gold or Dance Fever.
Obviously, nothing—including 80s Live—is perfect. Reimagining the tense “Every Breath You Take” by The Police as an R&B-ish workout, and replacing the icy slickness of Duran Duran’s “Rio” with a blaring, busy wall-of-sound approach are questionable decisions, to say the least.
And because the show has to cram so many popular tunes into a 70-minute running time, the emphasis on medley-izing songs may rub fans of individual numbers the wrong way.
But ultimately, that is just Olympic-grade nit-picking. 80s Live is a whole lot of fun and definitely worth the trip to AyCee.
Singing for others’ suppers
Nothing says “old school” better than a restaurant where customers are serenaded as they dine. Two such establishments can be found at Live! Casino-Hotel Philadelphia and Bally’s Atlantic City.
Every Thursday evening in the lounge at the Prime Rib inside Live!, A talented young man named Daniel Kulisek entertains guests with a surprisingly diverse repertoire that covers a number of musical styles. A typical set finds Kulisek—who accompanies himself on piano, and, occasionally, guitar—paying tribute to everyone from Frank Sinatra and Billy Joel to Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Foo Fighters.
And while he only performs there once a week, Kulisek’s no stranger to the Prime Rib: His “day job” is that of bartender at the posh eatery.
Down at Bally’s, the musical menu is limited to the sounds of Sinatra, courtesy of the strong set of pipes belonging to Carl Angelo Smith, who croons (to pre-recorded tracks) Ol’ Blue Eyes signatures (e.g. “I Got You Under My Skin,” “The Summer Wind”) every Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. at Jerry Longo’s meatballs & martinis.