Ocean Casino tribute band Magical Mystery Doors named Best Casino Show by USA Today readers; South Philly’s Steve Martorano to open steakhouse at Rivers; Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen ready to get cooking; Opener upstages Bert Kreischer at Hard Rock AC

In what can only be described as an upset of major proportions, Magical Mystery Doors, who last weekend ended an every-Sunday-afternoon summer residency at Ocean Casino-Resort, has been voted the nation’s Best Casino Show by the readers of USA Today.

Magical Mystery Doors
Photo credit: Magical Mystery Doors

In what can only be described as an upset of major proportions, Magical Mystery Doors, who last weekend ended an every-Sunday-afternoon summer residency at Ocean Casino-Resort, has been voted the nation’s Best Casino Show by the readers of USA Today.

This is not to suggest that the band’s relatively low-budget program that paid homage to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and The Doors doesn’t deserve the honor. To the contrary, its twist on the rock & roll tribute-band concept made it a must-see, thanks to the impressive musicianship–individual and collective–of the five-piece band and, especially, the wildly inventive “mash-ups” with which the group peppered its show: For example, while the band played Led Zep’s “Misty Mountain Hop,”  lead singer Vinny DeRenzis sang the lyrics to The Doors’ “Hello, I Love You.” 

What made the vote so surprising was the band’s competition: The top ten was rounded out by such powerhouse (and ultra-expensive-to-mount) Las Vegas attractions as four Cirque du Soleil productions (“The Beatles LOVE;” “Michael Jackson ONE”—which was the runner-up to MMD;” “O” and “Ka”) and the big-ticket Vegas residencies of country titans Shania Twain and Keith Urban.

“When we were first alerted that we were a part of this USA Today contest, we honestly thought it was a fake,” said Jeff Tomrell, the multi-instrumentalist who created the Magical Mystery Doors concept.

“‘Cirque du Soleil,’ Keith Urban, Shania Twain and us–a few guys from central Pennsylvania? This can’t be real! But then the reality set in. Our show was connecting with people. It was working.

“Our hard work and creativity got us nominated, but the people who came to see us got us the win. That means more than anything. As a musician and producer, you sit with an instrument and notepad and try to create something you hope people will find interesting. But you just don’t know: ‘Will audiences be okay with us altering masterpieces of the 20th century?’ As it turns out, they’re more than ok with it. They love it!” 

To no one’s surprise, the folks at Ocean are somewhat pleased as well. In a statement released by the casino, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Kelly Burke said: 

Ocean is proud to have been the home of Magical Mystery Doors as we hosted their residency throughout the summer. The show was extremely well-received by our customers and provided a great Sunday entertainment option for anyone in Atlantic City to enjoy. We are thrilled that they have been recognized as the number-one in USA Today’s 10 Best Casino Shows poll.” 

Magical Mystery Doors’ tally represents the first time an Atlantic City presentation has captured the top spot in the national newspaper’s annual readers’ survey of casino preferences. If you didn’t catch them this summer, you may very well have another chance next year: Given the award (and the enthusiastic audiences throughout the run), it won’t be surprising if the band returns to Ocean for a 2023 encore—if not sooner.

Return of the (South Philly) native

Steve Martorano, an acclaimed chef/restaurateur and proud son of South Philadelphia, is coming home.

Martorano will be planting his culinary flag at Rivers Casino Philadelphia with Martorano’s Prime. The room will replace Hugo’s Frog Bar & Chop House, which closed last January after a six-year run. It’s billed as a hybrid steakhouse-Italian outlet that will feature traditional beef and seafood dishes as well as such Martorano signatures as meatballs (which Gourmet magazine once proclaimed to be the best in the world) and linguini and clams. 

As in all of his outposts—his original store in Ft. Lauderdale and gaming-hall locations in Las Vegas (Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino), Atlantic City (Harrah’s Resort) and Pittsburgh (Rivers)—Martorano’s Prime will feature DJs Fridays through Sundays and the screening of  classic movies on an array of video screens during hours of operation.

No opening date has been announced, but given the timing of the announcement, expectations of a spring debut don’t seem unreasonable.

Martorano, 63, has made no secret of his blood ties to the Philly Mob. His father was a loan shark and his uncle, Mafioso Raymond “Long John” Martorano, was famously whacked in early 2002 (the murder remains unsolved). Although he appeared headed toward joining the family business when he was a young man, he walked away from its nefarious activities decades ago and has never been suspected of having any affiliation with organized crime.

Hell’s Kitchen almost open

Also on the gambling-den dining front, Gordon Ramsay Hell’s Kitchen, the latest concept from the celebri-chef (and internationally beloved hothead) is now taking reservations in anticipation of its Sept. 21 opening at Caesars Atlantic City.

The upscale restaurant is inspired by its namesake Fox network cooking-competition program that helped propel Ramsay to superstardom. As such, the room is designed in the same blue-red motif as the TV show. Speaking of which, the grand prize of the upcoming “Hell’s Kitchen” season (which premieres Sept. 29) is the eatery’s executive chef job.

Hell’s Kitchen is the third Ramsay operation in Atlantic City, joining Gordon Ramsay Steak at Harrah’s and Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill at Caesars.

For reservations, click here.

Broussard outshines Kreischer

To no one’s surprise, wildly popular standup comic/podcaster Bert Kreischer delighted the packed Hard Rock Live at Etess Arena last Sunday night–the second of two holiday-weekend gigs–with a typically rough and raucous set highlighted by numerous bits about his ostensibly dysfunctional family. But it says here that the true star of the show was middle-billed jokester Matthew Broussard, whose fresh-and-clever turn marked him as a performer worth following.

Broussard’s brand of comedy is decidedly adult in nature, but he doesn’t employ harsh language or talk about sex just for the sake of provoking laughs from audiences which, even in this day and age, seem to think the mere use of certain words or the portrayal of certain situations merit explosions of laughter. Instead, the Jersey-born, Atlanta-bred funnyman displayed a rare intelligence that justified his use of mature language and themes.

While Broussard’s is a far more benign presentation, favorable comparisons can be made to the late, brilliant Robert Schimmel, whose act was as X-rated as it gets, but whose punch lines seldom, if ever, aimed at the cheapest, lowest-common-denominator targets.

Among Broussard’s memorable bits were those focusing on vibrators and IUDs, as well as a hilarious set-closer about his bringing a small plastic bag containing baking soda through airport security.

Here’s hoping Matthew Broussard returns to AC ASAP!

    • 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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