After covering the entertainment beat for 32 years, the one question I’m asked more than any other is:
What’s the best show you ever saw?
I’ve heard it so many times over the years that I long ago developed a stock answer. I don’t mean it to sound smug or mildly sarcastic, so I have to be very careful how I actually say the words so people don’t read something into my words that isn’t there.
When someone says, “Spatzy, what’s the best show you ever saw?” I invariably answer, “I’ll let you know after I see it.”
Picking one show out of the more than 6,000 I’ve seen is, quite simply, an impossible job. What’s the barometer? What kind of measuring stick do we use? Do we go strictly by artistic merit, or does audience reaction count, too? And just how do you compare apples with oranges?
How do you measure performance artists like the Blue Man Group against, say, ’60s cosmic rockers The Moody Blues, or an Alice Cooper musical bloodfest versus the Twelve Girls Band from China.
And is it fair to say that Dane Cook’s rock ‘n’ roll-style comedy concert in a casino arena can be weighed the same as a Luciano Pavarotti recital in a 1,200-seat showroom?
Now, ask me if I’ve got any favorite shows — not best, but favorite — that have stuck in my mind over the past three decades. I can answer that one without hesitation — but with a qualification.
I’ve got a bunch of favorites, because so many genres of entertainment have been presented on the casino stages. So I’ve got a favorite pop show, favorite rock performance, favorite R&B, favorite country, favorite comedy ... you get the picture.
But if I had to single out two shows that stood out above the others, then Frank Sinatra and Paul McCartney top my list of favorite shows.
During the 13 years that he performed here during the casino era, I probably saw three dozen Sinatra shows. Some shows were classics, others were just so-so, especially during the last year or so of his performing career.
But one night in 1988, not long after the Golden Nugget became Bally’s Grand (now the Hilton), all the cosmic tumblers fell into place, and the old man performed one for the ages.
Already well into his 70s — and performing a second show on a Saturday night — Sinatra hit one out of the park. Maybe it was the Jack Daniels he fortified himself with between shows, but he performed like a man musically possessed.
He sounded 20 years younger as he breezed easily through his standards and signature saloon tunes and ballads, and those old blue eyes danced and sparkled at the sound of the 42-piece orchestra behind him.
His song selection was perfect and his ad-lib patter between songs with the audience and the band was lively and funny.
And just when it seemed he had nothing left in the tank, he reached down deep and performed the most challenging song in his repertoire: the eight-minute “Soliloquy” from the Broadway musical Carousel, one of the most complex numbers ever written by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Fast forward to 2002. It was former Beatle Paul McCartney’s first Atlantic City appearance since his old band performed a 35-minute set at Boardwalk Hall in 1964. Sir Paul made up for lost time.
I don’t think there’s such a thing as a perfect show, but McCartney came damned closed. Even the pre-show was a theater piece in itself; a parade of characters through the audience and onto stage that can best be described as Fellini meets Sgt. Pepper.
During his two-hour set, McCartney — like Sinatra had done 14 years earlier — turned back the clock. He deftly mixed songs from his solo career with plenty of Beatles tunes, performed a few new numbers, paid tribute to his late mates John Lennon and George Harrison and gave each member of his amazing band a chance to stretch out individually.
Two years and 70 pounds ago, Carlos Mencia would have gone on stage after the Colorado theater massacre and attacked his audience with blunt force comedy about an unthinkable tragedy that left a dozen dead and 58 people wounded.
Once again, greetings and salutations. Before getting to your questions, I want to thank the folks at Caesars, including boss man Don Marrandino, and Georges Perrier and Chris Scarduzio, who together run Mia Restaurant at Caesars, for the wonderful hospitality bestowed upon all of us who taped the Time-Life Malt Shop Memories show for PBS recently. Chris and Georges took time out to cook for every one of the stars of the show (held earlier this month at Caesars’ Circus Maximus Theater), including Frankie Avalon, Chris Montez, Bobby Rydell, and all the groups. We’ll let you know when it will be televised, and you can check geator.net for updates....
Several weeks ago, I answered my most frequently-asked question — What was the best show you’ve ever seen? — by not answering it because it would be impossible for me to single out just one performance. Instead, I cited two shows that had a lasting impression of the more than 6,000 I’ve seen during the past 32 years (Frank Sinatra in 1988, Paul McCartney in 2002). Then I asked you to chime in and tell me your best or favorite Atlantic City shows. Between responses to the column on the Atlantic City Weekly Web site, e-mails, messages sent to my Facebook page and even one from the produce aisle of the Somers Point ShopRite, I received a diverse cross-section of artists that reflects the...