Productions at Borgata, Hard Rock and Resorts make Allen Valentine Atlantic City’s greatest showman
Some show-business producers like to think of their projects as their “children.” In that case, Allen Valentine should be one proud poppa these days.
That’s because the 58-year-old impresario currently has three production shows on the boards in Atlantic City: The 10th anniversary edition of the naughty, bawdy and gaudy The Burlesque Show at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa (which runs Thursdays through Sept. 28), the high-energy Disco Inferno at Resorts Casino-Hotel (Sundays through Oct. 29) and the wildly entertaining variety extravaganza Euphoria at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City (Sundays through Nov. 19).
Valentine, a 58-year-old Long Island native, has been based in Atlantic City since he arrived in the mid-1990s not to stage presentations, but to star in his own magic shows. After a few years of performing, he made the jump from onstage to backstage; in the ensuing decades, his company, Elite Casino Marketing Group, has created more than 50 productions for casinos in Atlantic City, The Bahamas, Washington, D.C., Biloxi, Miss. and Hollywood, Fla. The offerings have covered a wide variety of formats, from magic shows to Elvis Presley tributes to musical salutes to the Motown record label, 1960s and 1980s.
We recently caught up with Valentine by phone on the Cape May beach, where he and his wife (and in-house costume designer) Kristine were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary:
Q: It would seem that getting one show off the ground is a massive undertaking—it’s not like you have a staff of 30 or 35 people working under you. So how difficult was it to open three completely different shows within a matter of weeks?
A: It was a stress test for our little company. For us to open three shows in a one-month span was something that definitely was challenging.
The biggest challenge was working out everybody's schedule. My musical director and vocal director can only be in one place at a time. So with Euphoria and Disco Inferno” that was our biggest challenge. [At one point] we were working seven days a week, at least 12 hours a day.
The other person who had the heaviest lifting was actually Kristine. Burlesque and Disco Inferno each have at least 200 costumes [the total worn by the casts, not the number of individual designs]. Euphoria is maybe about 150. She had to design the costumes, get them made and figure out the logistics for the fittings.
Q: What’s the most difficult part of creating a new show?
A: Trying to create something that we haven't done before. I think what we have a lot of pride in that we try to create shows that are really unique—especially when we have multiple shows in town. So, The Burlesque Show” couldn’t be more different from Euphoria and Disco Inferno.
Whenever we sit down to think about something new and fresh, it's like, “Okay, what haven't we done before?” And I feel like after 52 production shows, we've kind of tapped almost every genre. But as Euphoria proves, there are still ways to reinvent the wheel, in this case by having live musicians and singers and dancers on stage with the featured acts.
Q: Before Burlesque, casino production shows tended to be presented multiple times each week. But your shows are all staged once a week. Why?
A: Initially, [former Borgata President} Joe Lupo said, “We're interested in doing a production show. And we’re thinking one show a day, five days a week.” Then I guess he mulled it over with his marketing team and decided that schedule may not work. And they invited me back for a second meeting and said, “Could you do a show that runs one day a week?” Back then, that was a radical idea.
What Borgata noticed right away is that Mr. and Mrs. Smith, who normally come down Friday and Saturday night, were now coming down Thursday, Friday, Saturday. And that’s huge for the casino to capture people for an additional night. Sundays wound up being the same thing; Hard Rock and Resorts are seeing customers who are at least staying later in the day or staying overnight on Sundays and going back to work Monday morning from Atlantic City. And so the math really worked out for the casinos.
Q: The Burlesque Show is now in its 10th year (not counting the year it was dark because of COVID-19). About a decade ago, a casino exec--who shall remain nameless—insisted to you a burlesque show couldn't succeed in Atlantic City (he has since acknowledged his error in judgment). Why has The Burlesque Show been so successful?
On our opening night, the show had just ended and Joe Lupo said to me—his exact words—“It's the ultimate casino show. It's sex and comedy, and it's elegant.” And he was right; who doesn't enjoy adult humor and dancing that’s sexy, but tastefully done?
Q:Speaking of Burlesque, how has the show not only survived, but thrived, in these increasingly PC times, when having young women remove their clothes (down to pasties and G-strings per state law) is increasingly seen as exploiting and objectifying women?
A: When we first started thinking about doing this kind of show, my creative team and I went to New Orleans to look at authentic burlesque shows. Right away we noticed that in all those shows was girl power. The real vibe of those shows was empowerment for the performers.
I thought, if we can keep that and make it elegant, we can create a really fun and tasteful show that doesn’t offend anybody. And after 10 years, I guess we’ve done that.
Q: How crucial to the success of the musical revues—and Euphoria is the band you employ?
A: I like to say that I am “The Man With the Golden Band.” [Bassist/musical director] Arland Gilliam is the one who put this band together with seasoned veterans who’ve played with major artists. They’ve been playing together in the shows for about six years, and they’ve become so strong and they bring so much energy to the show because their playing as a unit is so crisp and tight. If I had a lesser band, the shows would certainly suffer. I feel very lucky that I've got this killer band.
Lefty Lucy’s love story
As “cover” bands go, Lefty Lucy, which is scheduled to perform 7 to 11 p.m. on Aug. 9, 15 and 21 at The Lobby Bar inside Hard Rock is hardly your run-of-the-mill unit.
For starters, the group, which focuses on classic rock and the rockier side of country music, has been on the boards for some 25 years—an unusually long run in the cover-band universe. And unlike most of these types of units, which tend to rely on one-night stands at different venues, they have spent more than two decades as the five-night-a-week, wintertime house band at Colorado’s Copper Mountain Ski Resort (they also play multiple dates at Parrot Patio in their summertime home base, Sarasota, Fla.).
But most significantly, Lefty Lucy is led by Lucy and Nick DiBlasio, who met while in the theater program at Bishop McDevitt High School in suburban Philadelphia, and who have been married for almost 25 years. So what’s the secret to forging a successful joint career while keeping a marriage going?
“I don't know if there's a secret,” said Lucy. “We just do what has worked for us. I think we always had the sort of unwritten rule that anything that we were dealing with relationship-wise, we never took it on stage.
“I think I can attribute that to our theater director in high school, who said, ‘Never let ’em see you sweat.’ We never show anybody that we are dealing with something that wasn't on a happy level, which makes our shows so much better; when you come to see a show, you don't wanna see the people onstage having a problem with each other. And we’re both conscious of that.”
But what about sharing professional and personal lives 24/7? Doesn’t that make things a little uncomfortable (at best) at time?
While Nick joked that the couple are usually so geographically close “I can stick my hands out, spin around and probably hit Lucy,” he insisted that’s “not a burden. Our relationship started this way and it’s all we’ve ever know. And it's always been fun.
“I look forward to doing our shows. I look forward to walking on the beaches. I look forward to scuba diving together. It's all the fun things in life. I get to do them with my best friend. I just feel very fortunate.”
Seinfeld on the move?
Is a change of AyCee address in the cards for Jerry Seinfeld? What's happening both here and in Las Vegas suggests it might be in the works.
The 69-year-old comedy immortal has been a bi-annual headliner at Borgata for more than a decade. But as the Big B seems to have abandoned its long-held status as the Atlantic City home of A-and- A-plus headliners (with Hard Rock primarily assuming the role), it's logical to assume Seinfeld will no longer be a Borgata attraction whenever his current contract--whose termination date is known only to the comedy superstar and a small coterie of casino suits, show biz agents and expensive lawyers--expires.
Enter Caesars Entertainment, corporate overlord of Caesars Palace, the iconic Vegas Strip pleasure dome, which just added more Seinfeld dates, and which has been hosting the Lawn Guyland-born funnyman since 2003.
Given the parent company's clear intention to restore its Boardwalk outpost to local show biz relevancy/supremacy (e.g., the eight-figure investment in the venue and production show both called The Hook), it doesn't seem too far-fetched to extrapolate a change of scenery for The Sein in the not-too-distant future.