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The Casino File: Hard Rock Atlantic City putting the ‘live’ back in ‘live entertainment’

The casino’s upcoming holiday-themed musicale will mark the return of indoor performances to the virus-beleaguered gaming capital.

It’s hardly news that the COVID-19 pandemic has clobbered the nation’s gambling dens in any number of ways, from government-imposed limits on food-and-drink-service hours and social-distancing orders that have severely impacted the number of customers allowed on a casino floor to the shutdown of that industry staple, the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Another byproduct of the once-in-a-century contagion has been, since late last winter, the cessation of all indoor entertainment programming. While it’s safe to assume gaming halls everywhere have been negatively affected by this, it’s hit Hard Rock Hotel Casino Atlantic City especially hard because show business is the linchpin of the property’s branding. Which makes it logical that AyCee’s first indoor booking of the COVID era belongs to the mega-resort on the eastern end of the Boardwalk: Fourteen performances of Motor City Live: A Motown Christmas will be staged between Dec. 11 and Dec. 30 at the Rock’s Sound Waves space.

In keeping with New Jersey state regulations, only 150 tickets will be available for each performance. And the 1,500 seats that usually fill the room will be replaced by tables that will be situated at least six feet apart and sold in groups of two or four.

In addition, audience members will be required to enter Sound Waves with their entire party intact, and tables closest to the stage will be placed at least 10 feet from it. Ticketholders are required to follow CDC and State of New Jersey guidelines for indoor events, which means , among other things, social distancing will be enforced as will the wearing of masks except while drinking.

There will be plenty of rules behind the footlights as well. For instance, while the show’s four male and four female singers will be exempt, the supporting troupe of five musicians and four dancers are required to wear masks for the duration of the performance. To further minimize the risk of the virus spreading, the musical ensemble will not include brass instruments — the reasoning is that spittle caused by blowing into instruments could increase the danger of the coronavirus being transmitted. It also creates more space for the other cast members to maintain safe distances. Those crucial musical parts will be handled by keyboards that will recreate the sounds of the saxophone, trumpet etc. And all performers will be subject to a regime of regular temperature checks.

Despite these issues, Hard Rock management believes the time is right for a return to indoor entertainment — at least for the holiday season.

According to casino President Joe Lupo, presenting the revusical is a way to “raise the spirits of our guests in a very safe and sound environment.” The public, he reasons, “Is looking for activities, especially with outdoor temperatures keeping everyone inside. The large showrooms, with better air circulation and spacious seating…and 10 percent of normal occupancy can provide that safe and fun night out.”

As for the program itself, those attending the show can expect a set list that is roughly split along a two-to-one ratio of classic Motown hits and holiday songs. The seasonal tunes, offers producer Allen Valentine, are taken from the canon of tracks recorded by members of the Motown Records label’s stable of stars through the decades. As such, expect to hear, among other Yuletide chestnuts, The Temptations’ version of “The Little Drummer Boy,” Stevie Wonder’s reading of “That’s What Christmas Means to Me” and the Jackson 5-inspired “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.”

Not surprisingly, mounting a production during the worst epidemic in a century is, to say the least, a whole new experience for the show’s creator/producer.

“I’m thinking about things that under normal conditions would not enter my mind in a million years,” admits Valentine, who had three Atlantic City shows on the boards when New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy ordered the town’s casinos closed in mid-March.

As an example, Valentine cites the difficulty in creating choreography that needs to be interesting and entertaining yet adhere to social distancing mandates. Thus, he concedes, mounting A Motown Christmas is “absolutely the most challenging thing I’ve ever done because of the safety concerns.”

For tickets, click here.

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