ATLANTIC CITY - When it came to choosing a landmark entertainment event to mark its 30th anniversary, the executives of Caesars Atlantic City could have gone in many directions. Comedians. A retrospective revue. A parade. A beach concert.
But Caesars made a wish list, and on the top of that wish list were two performers that helped open Caesars in 1979: Paul Anka and Tony Orlando. The other, screen legend Ann-Margret, cut the ribbon for the ground-breaking ceremony.
On Friday night, the trio made it abundantly clear why Caesars went in the direction it did. Offering individual sets shorter than they would normally perform capped by a finale with all three performers together on stage for the first time, the anniversary show was definitely something worth celebrating.
Orlando, 65, opened the night and was fantastic as usual. Opening with "Once in a Lifetime" to commemorate how he felt about the show, he ripped through his hits rapidly, including "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree," "Knock Three Times," "Candida" and others before offering some covers that included "Runaway" and Neil Diamond's "America," where he asked veterans to stand up in a moving gesture.
Margret, 69, who last performed in Atlantic City five years ago at Resorts, came out second and was the least impressive of the three. Last in Atlantic City six years ago, it was obvious Margret was a little rusty as she threw out oldies including "Old-Fashioned Strut" and Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher."
At times, her voice was spot on. At others it was off-key and weak. Her most fun moment - even if the song wasn't great vocally - was "Viva Las Vegas," the theme song of the movie she co-starred in with Elvis Presley. With some film clips from "Carnal Knowledge," "Grumpy Old Men" and "Bye Bye Birdie" thrown in, the novelty of seeing Margret perform quickly wore off. Her 30-minute set was about 10 minutes too long, her song choices were certainly not crowd pleasers, and her stories were not that interesting.
Then came Anka. And as good as Orlando was, it was as if the level of entertainment was raised to a whole other level. Offering an hour set, the former teen idol and one of the most prolific singer-songwriters ever emerged from the crowd singing "Diana," and the hits kept coming: "Lonely Boy," "Put Your Head on My Shoulder," "You are My Destiny," and "She's a Lady," which he wrote for Tom Jones.
Throughout the evening, he mingled with the crowd, took pictures with them, kissed them, danced with them and made everyone feel like they were at a family wedding. He is the consummate performer.
He closed with a powerful version of "My Way," the song he wrote for Frank Sinatra, and finished the night with "New York, New York," joined by Orlando and Margret for a fun conclusion.
The only issue with Friday's show was that it came across more as a nostalgia show than a true celebration of 30 years. It would have been a much more interesting 30th anniversary show if Caesars actually had three acts to represent the three decades, including at least one performer who would give the show a little more modern edge.
That said, no one walked out of the Circus Maximus Theatre disappointed Friday night. As always, Anka and Orlando delivered big time, covering Margret's mediocre set.
It was certainly a night to remember. Audience members were greeted with champagne on arrival. There was a 15-piece orchestra. Caesar and Cleopatra and a costumed brigade escorted the trio off stage. And there were plenty of standing ovations throughout the night. All in all, it was a class act.
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