The Casino File: ‘The Burlesque Show’ finally returns to Borgata; Tony Danza sets Live! Philly date
It was the very end of 2019 and Allen Valentine had just seen the curtain come down on the holiday-week edition of The Burlesque Show at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa that had climaxed with a New Year’s Eve performance. As creator-producer of the adults-only production, Valentine was already planning its ninth edition which, as always, was looking at a roughly six-month run set to begin the following April.
But then a little thing called COVID-19 showed up and put the kibosh on both the 2020 and 2021 versions of the program (the latter also got caught in a major management shakeup at the Big B that likely caused it to lose its priority status).
But that’s all in the past: On May 5, the every-Thursday-evening spectacle that resurrects the glory days of burlesque—with its voluptuous strippers and raunchy comics—returns. However, it’s not the program Valentine would have assumed it would be before the pandemic struck.
“When COVID hit at the end of February , we started seeing the writing on the wall. And then the whole world shut down in March. So that was it. We just hit the brakes,” recalled Valentine. “And because of some management shuffling, [Borgata wasn’t] able to pull the trigger until early this year, which did not give us enough time to build a brand new show from scratch.
“So this year we're planning on doing the show that we were planning on doing for the 10-year anniversary, if we made it to 10: We're gonna do the ‘Best of Burlesque Show’--our favorite material.”
As noted above, that program’s material is divided into two main categories: strippers (who generally peel down to G-strings and pasties as New Jersey law prohibits full nudity in any establishment that sells alcoholic drinks) and comics whose material tends to be adult in nature. There is also a series of brief (and equally raw) comedy skits known in olden days as “blackouts.” But times are different than they were when The Burlesque Show debuted in 2013: Political correctness, while certainly a factor, wasn’t quite as prevalent—or as vociferous—as it is today. Which means there are some folks who might see the classic burlesque format as objectifying women rather than as a vintage—but legitimate–art form. Valentine disagrees.
“When we first started working on this show, I knew nothing about the world of burlesque,” said Valentine, who has spent almost 30 years on the AyCee entertainment scene, first as a headlining magician and then as a producer (he is currently staging 80s Live at Hard Rock Hotel Casino Atlantic City).
“So I started traveling—to New York and New Orleans in particular—to see authentic burlesque shows. And I discovered right away that these shows are all about ‘Girl Power.’ And that surprised me, because, like I said, I didn't know much about burlesque.
“And now that I've been around it for so many years, that's really what it's about. And so, we set out to create a show that was empowering for women. And I think we've achieved that because women love our show. They keep coming back to it. They're the ones that really give us the highest praise.”
While Valentine is certainly delighted to have The Burlesque Show back on the boards, his joy is somewhat tempered by not having comedian Jeff Pirrami in the cast. Pirrami, who served as the emcee for every edition of the show since its inception, died in 2020 after battling heart problems for a number of years. To say the corpulent comic (and self-described “fat rat bastard”) was the heart and soul of the production barely scratches the surface of what he meant to Valentine and his minions. However, in a small but significant way, Pirrami can still be counted as a contributor.
Taking his place is Chris Morris, who was brought to Valentine’s attention by Pirrami several years ago. It happened after The Burlesque Show was booked into a casino in Biloxi, Miss. concurrently with the Borgata run. Needing a comic for that presentation, Valentine asked Pirrami if he had any suggestions. Pirrami recommended Morris for whom he had served as a mentor.
“So we gave Chris a shot and he was fantastic,” remembered Valentine. “And then he was basically gonna be Jeff's understudy if Jeff had a corporate date or something like that. So, in a strange way, Jeff gave us a parting gift of Chris.”
According to Valentine, those who have seen Pirrami in the show will notice both similarities and differences between the two gagsters.
“Chris will be following the same path [of] rapid-fire dirty jokes, but their personalities are definitely different,” he said. “I think Chris has a little bit more of, maybe, a sweeter, kinder approach; Jeff sometimes was more of a sledgehammer, although I will say Chris definitely has an edge to him, for sure. It's just a different kind of edge.”
The onstage loss may be covered, but offstage, Pirrami’s passing leaves a huge hole in the hearts of those he left behind.
“Jeff’s contribution was immeasurable,” said Valentine, “not only as a performer, but personally to everyone behind the scenes. He was part of our family here. It was a very big loss for us.”
Show time for all performances is 9 p.m. Admission is $17.50. For tickets, click here.
Tony Danza live at Live!
Sitcom icon Tony Danza is headed to Live! Casino Hotel Philadelphia. Danza, who rose to stardom in a supporting role on Taxi and followed that with headliner success on Who’s the Boss? will perform at the South Philly gaming hall June 11.
In case you’re wondering what, exactly, Danza does in his live act, the program, dubbed Standards & Stories, will feature him showing off several talents he seldom, if ever, got to display on his TV shows: Look for him to perform songs in the Frank Sinatra vein, perform a few dance moves and even play ukulele. Connecting each of these segments will be stories from his life and career.
Show time is 8 p.m. Admission is $79-$59. For tickets, click here.