After more than two years, Borgata’s ‘Burlesque Show’ is back and as naughty—and entertaining—as ever; Van Gogh exhibit opens at Hard Rock AC

Photo Credit: Elite Casino Marketing Group Inc.

You don’t usually look in a casino if you’re searching for courage. But that’s what you’ll find these days at Atlantic City’s Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa.

It’s a testament to the bravery of everyone involved–from the folks who run the bayside gaming hall to creator-producer Allen Valentine and his creative team to the cast and crew that “The Burlesque Show” is even a thing in these constantly aggrieved, politically correct times.

That’s because the latest (ninth) edition of the naughty, bawdy retro revue—which hasn’t been presented since the pre-COVID days of late 2019—revels in some things that are not necessarily acceptable in contemporary live (or any other) entertainment.

The very-R-rated production, which is being staged every Thursday night through Sept. 29, was conceived as a tribute to a show biz sub-genre that reached the pinnacle of its popularity in the middle part of the 20th century. But that was a dramatically different time in this nation’s history—a time when feminism and equal rights for women were concepts found on the fringes of the fringes of American society. Thus, burlesque, while generally shunned by “polite society,” nonetheless flourished for decades.

In 2022, however, it’s somewhat surprising that a publicly traded, billion-dollar entity like MGM Resorts would countenance a spectacle predicated on young women displaying their nearly-nude bodies and rough, lowbrow comedy. But thank goodness it has done so, because “The Burlesque Show” is as much good, clean dirty fun as it’s always been.

Sure, the featured dancers—who perform under such stage names as Rosie Cheeks and Trixie Minx–shimmy, prance, gyrate and undulate while shedding their clothes until they are clad in just pasties and G-strings (New Jersey state liquor laws prohibit nudity in establishments that sell alcoholic beverages). But they come off not as victims of outmoded sexual mores, but as the people they presumably are: Dedicated artists proudly exercising their right to dominion over their bodies. 

And while their turns are certainly sexy, they are never vulgar or lewd. If they were, it’s unlikely the women at a recent performance (who appeared to comprise about half of the audience that packed the Music Box theater) would have been so enthusiastic in their support of the cast.

This edition of “The Burlesque Show” hews to the format of its eight predecessors, with the turns by the featured ecdysiasts (Google it) separated by variety-act segments (in this case balancing-act/plate-spinner Keith Nelson and the aerialist duo, Hannah Risner and Brian Ferre; both provide strong moments). There are also a few “blackouts”—quickie, risqué sketches that were another key element of traditional burlesque. But there is one huge difference between this program and those that preceded it: The show’s emcee and featured comic.

All previous versions of “The Burlesque Show” were anchored by the inimitable Jeff Pirrami, a round mound of hilarity who passed away in 2020 from heart-related issues. Pirrami’s offbeat physical presence and coarse, often-self-deprecating humor (he gleefully referred to himself as a “fat rat bastard”) fueled “The Burlesque Show” and, as anyone associated with the production will tell you, was its heart and soul.

As such, the idea of “replacing” him is as absurd as replacing Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa: How do you replace the irreplaceable? But creator-Allen Valentine has certainly found a worthy successor in Chris Morris.

Morris, who looks like what the result would be if Jackie Gleason and Nathan Lane had a son, ably fills his predecessor’s titanic shoes, in large part because he isn’t a mere stylistic clone.

Pirrami—who actually discovered Morris several years ago and recommended him to Valentine as a fill-in–specialized in wisecracks about his looks, weight, sex life, etc., as well as playful insults of audience members. Morris sticks primarily to dirty jokes that were old when his grandfather was telling them to his elementary school buddies. But “old” does not mean “unfunny.” Most of his routines are hilarious, if not for the easily offended. 

Sure, the humor is puerile and juvenile. And the language he employs is straight out of seventh-grade gym class. So what? Again, if anyone was offended by Morris’ material, their gales of laughter and waves of applause were an odd way of displaying disgust and outrage.

Proving yet again that a) funny is funny and b) “The Burlesque Show” is 75 minutes of wildly enjoyable adult entertainment.

For tickets, click here.

‘Rock’-ing Van Gogh

The much-anticipated “Beyond Van Gogh: The Immersive Experience” is now open to the public at Hard Rock Hotel Casino Atlantic City.

Presented daily through August 28 in the Rock’s Seminole Ballroom (located on the second level on the western edge of the sprawling, 17-acre complex), “Beyond Van Gogh” encompasses two separate areas (not counting a well-stocked gift shop).

Visitors first encounter a series of large panels upon which are observations of his   about various aspects of the human condition (many drawn from personal correspondence). Others contain biographical data that describe a hard, bleak and unfulfilled life. These provide vivid contrast to the vibrant, life-affirming work that belied his personal situation.

The second area provides the “immersive” experience: Huge reproductions of his work are projected on all four walls and even the floor. These are not static, as paintings morph into others and even become animated: For instance the subjects of “Wheat Field with Crows” actually fly across one wall.

Appropriate, mood-setting music and spoken- word segments add aural enhancement to the visuals.

It must be noted that “Beyond Van Gogh” is probably not for those lacking an interest in Van Gogh in particular or fine art in general. As one who fits this description, I admit I wasn’t really engaged during my visit, although I was impressed by the scope of the exhibit and the technology involved.

On the other hand, several art-focused friends of mine raved about their experience.

But this isn’t to suggest I didn’t find value in the presentation: “Beyond Van Gogh” represents out-of-the-box thinking in terms of casino entertainment, and Hard Rock CEO Joe Lupo, Michael Woodside, the gambling den’s entertainment czar and their team deserve credit for expanding the definition of what a casino-hotel can do in the way of public attractions.

Here’s hoping they continue to consider such envelope-pushing concepts.

For tickets, click here.

    • Chuck Darrow headshot

      Chuck Darrow has spent more than four decades as a writer and broadcaster specializing in covering the Philadelphia region's arts, entertainment and casinos. He is still afraid he may one day have to work for a living. 

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