‘The Burlesque Show’ returns to Borgata

Photo courtesy of Elite Casino Marketing Group Inc.

When it comes to history, 11 years is but a blink of an eye. But given the change-or-die imperative that has always fueled Atlantic City’s legal-gambling realm, that many years can be construed as being equal to several lifetimes.

Which makes the current edition of “The Burlesque Show” at Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa more than a little noteworthy. As a matter of fact, it’s probably safe to say that at this point, the program can be considered a local entertainment institution.

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Pretty impressive, especially when one considers the often-raunchy and naughty, but never vulgar, salute to the form of adult entertainment that was popular roughly from the 1920s through the 1960s began as an experiment devised by the team that, at the time, ran the bayside pleasure dome.

As the program’s creator-producer, Allen Valentine, explained, before “Burlesque,” traditional casino production shows were typically staged six or eight times a week. By the time he was hired by Borgata to mount such a presentation, that model, which had been dictated by the bus business so valuable to the casinos’ bottom lines, had been blown to bits by the advent of legal gambling in Pennsylvania in 2006.

As such, Valentine contended, “I was very lucky that Borgata took a chance all those years ago. I feel that it was a calculated risk that they decided to do a production show when they did, because most casinos were pulling back on them.

“But the thought that they had, which I thought was very clever, was the once-a-week model,” he added. “At the time, that was unheard of. But along comes Borgata going, ‘Hey, we kind of want to reinvent the wheel with these production shows. We still want to run for six months, but we can’t do that many shows a week because there are no buses anymore.’

“So the solution they came up with at first seemed strange,” Valentine recounted, “but it worked and it worked huge.”

Valentine acknowledged that conjuring a show – and the million and one details that entails, from casting to writing to music selection and arranging to costuming to scenery to the financial paperwork – is the same whether it’s a one-off or it runs for 11 years. But there are benefits to the once-a-week schedule that Valentine employs for all his casino projects, including the upcoming “Disco Inferno,” opening June 23 at Bally’s Atlantic City, and “Pop Divas,” on July 4 at Ocean Casino Resort.

“What’s great about the once-a-week model for the performers is that they are so energized when they come in,” he pointed out. “They give it all they’ve got because they’re just doing that one show a week. So it doesn’t get old for them; they leave it all out on the stage.

“Sometimes it happens to a cast that if they’re doing a lot of shows a week, it can become a little mundane,” Valentine added. “But the once-a-week thing makes the performers just so excited.”

As for the 2024 edition of “The Burlesque Show” – admission is limited to those 21 and older – Valentine promises it will be the biggest version to date.

“I think scenery wise and costume wise, this is the largest version of the show, without a doubt,” he said. “This is a very big production. We’re packing the stage of the Music Box this year, for sure.”

Veteran fans (according to Valentine, “Burlesque” does major repeat business) should be happy to learn that the hilarious Chris Morris is returning as the emcee. This year’s specialty performers are the Albanian Balla Brothers, a duo that does a balancing act. And, of course, there will be a troupe of ecdysiasts (Google it!) who will provide the tasteful titillation that is at the core of any version of “The Burlesque Show.”

But in this oh-so-woke day and age, some may find themselves aghast at the thought of young, attractive women shedding their clothes – or most of them, as it were, since total nudity is verboten in any New Jersey venue that serves alcohol – for the entertainment of others.

To that point, Valentine suggested that today, the art and craft of striptease is not about the gratification and desires of the mostly male audience for whom burlesque was initially conceived. Instead, he insisted, it’s about “female empowerment.”

It’s important to note that in past years, “The Burlesque Show” audiences have had a large female component. And let’s face it, a publicly traded company like Borgata’s corporate parent, MGM Resorts, would never sanction anything it deemed trashy, vulgar or offensive.

According to Valentine, the trick to removing the tawdriness of the burlesque genre is to inject it with heaping helpings of class and glamour.

“It’s empowering, but yet still sensual and hilarious,” he insisted. “I think what makes our show different than most burlesque shows is the … glamour, the glitz, the rhinestones, just really giving it that polish.

“I thought, ‘What can we do to make this genre different?’ And that’s what I think we’ve done here.”

For tickets, go to ticketmaster.com 

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