‘The Hook’ at Caesars, Tina Fey/Amy Poehler at Hard Rock, among ’23’s show biz scene in Atlantic City

Carlos Santana’s politically incorrect remarks from the Hard Rock stage about transgendered people were also a notable part of the year’s entertainment history.
Amy Poehler and Tina Fey wowed at the Hard Rock in Atlantic City.
Amy Poehler and Tina Fey wowed at the Hard Rock in Atlantic City.Ticketmaster

While most of us, it can be assumed, are looking ahead to the new year, we figured one last glance in the rearview mirror is merited. And since this column is primarily dedicated to casino entertainment, it behooves us to look at some of the more memorable show biz happenings of 2023.

But be advised, this is not a “best of” survey; the only way to legitimately compile that list would have been to see every show that took place the past 12 months. And that is a feat that is as impossible as it is admirable.

So, without further ado, here’s a look at some of the more noteworthy moments of the 2023 casino entertainment scene.

Caesars gets ‘Hooked’

There is no debating the biggest deal of the year was the summer debut of The Hook, the X-rated variety pageant at Caesars Atlantic City.

Thanks to The Hook, Atlantic City has a casino production that follows the Las Vegas model: A permanent, exclusive-to-the-city presentation housed in a venue built specifically for it.

The content breaks no new ground—The Hook is a reliable (and wildly entertaining) blend that its producer, Vegas-based Spiegelworld, has spun into box-office gold: Cirque-style acts and raunchy humor. But it does represent a new era of AyCee show biz. The hope here is that it is proving successful enough to inspire other properties to build/create their own one-of-a-kind, year-round attractions.

The return of ‘Decades'

In the mid-and-late-2000s Trump Taj Mahal Casino-Resort (now Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City) hosted a series of one-off concerts at which iconic pop/rock acts were joined by other famed musicians. Last month, creator/producer Barry Summers revived the idea at Ocean Casino-Resort by saluting the 55th anniversary of the debut album by pioneering jazz-rock outfit Chicago with the help of such artists as Robin Thicke, Chris Daughtry and guitar wizards Steve Vai and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram.

The two-night stand was an impressive affair, marked by compelling performances of standards and deep cuts both often reinvented to play to the guest performers’ strengths. Adding to the fun was spectacular high-tech staging.

Two notable turns

Thanks to producer Allen Valentine, Atlantic City’s long tradition of casino revues continued in 2023 with several shows, two of which were highlighted by individual performances.

The 10th annual edition of The Burlesque Show at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa found Chris Morris, the comic who replaced the irreplaceable Jeff Pirami, finding his footing and carving out his own hilarious turf.

And over at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, the snappy variety show, Euphoria included the brilliant clowning of Mark Gindick, whose wordless (but hardly silent) shtick was a hoot-and-a-half.

Comedy gold from Fey and Poehler

In June, Saturday Night Live alumni and BFFs Tina Fey and Amy Poehler turned in a for-the-ages set at Hard Rock. The pair wowed with the scope and breadth of their talents, from sketch-playing to standup to improve. Of all of the 2023 turns we personally witnessed, this one ranks at the top of the heap.

Rife with potential

There is no doubt that 2023’s comedy “It Boy” is Matt Rife, the 28-year-old gagster from Ohio whose social-media videos have garnered hundreds of millions of views. Of course, that was before the kerfuffle caused by some material about domestic violence that was included in his recent Netflix special.

Our verdict: The talent is there, but the content was a little too sophomoric at times.

End of the line at Borgata?

As noted in this column before, 2023 appears to be the year that Borgata--which has hosted such A-plus-listers as David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, The Who and Robin Williams—abdicated its position as the city’s show-business leader. Not only did the quantity of headliner bookings significantly diminish this year, but so did the quality. With the exception of comedy titans Jerry Seinfeld and Sebastian Maniscalco, there was no “wow-factor” booking. And it certainly won’t be surprising if both those stars find new Atlantic City addresses when their Borgata contracts expire.

Sanatana sparks controversy

From a purely musical standpoint, there was nothing with which to quibble about July’s two-night Hard Rock stand by guitar god Carlos Santana (with the possible exception of the song sequencing, which found him opening with all but a couple of his most beloved numbers, instead of saving them for the end, as is usually the case with musical performers). But he did raise eyebrows with his remarks about transgendered people.

During his July 29 set, Santana said: “When God made you and me, before we came out of the womb, you know who you are and what you are,” he said. “Later on, when you grow out of it, you see things, and you start believing that you could be something that sounds good, but you know it ain’t right, because a woman is a woman and a man is a man--that’s it.”

“Whatever you wanna do in the closet, that’s your business. I’m OK with that.” 

Santana subsequently issued an apology on Facebook that read: “I am sorry for my insensitive comments. They don’t reflect that I want to honor and respect all person’s ideals and beliefs.

“I realize that what I said hurt people and that was not my intent. I sincerely apologize to the transgender community and everyone I offended.”

But, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, a day later he deleted it and replaced it with a four-line poem that read:

“the energy of 

consciousness generates its own kind. 

hate begets hate

love begets love.”

One more thing:

From me and mine to you and yours, have a healthy, joyous and peaceful 2024!

Happy Holidays and see you at the casinos!

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