by DAVID SPATZ
Throughout the past 40 years, Atlantic City casino entertainment has always been cyclical.
The one time of year that now tends to be a little light on shows is the holiday season. Casinos learned long ago that unless you’re presenting an A-list show, people are going to skip the casino holiday productions and save their money for holiday gifts.
The bottom line: you can’t compete with Santa Claus.
Some entertainers have been exceptions to the rule though. There was a long stretch where a visit by Kenny Rogers was almost de rigueur during the holidays. Back then the Gambler’s red-and-green ribbon-wrapped gig was considered the beginning of the holiday show season.
Another former must-book entertainer was Wayne Newton. He, too, developed a holiday show that combined seasonal music with his hits. One year, Newton actually became the first (and we’re pretty sure the only) entertainer to include real penguins in his show.
But something’s a little different this year. There are a lot of holiday shows headed to the casinos between now and the end of December, and that doesn’t include the stars that are booked with their standard act, not a holiday production.
And Atlantic City doesn’t exactly have a monopoly on holiday entertainment, either. Venues throughout the region will also present a smorgasbord of holiday-flavored entertainment.
Here are holiday-themed casino shows booked through end of the year:
John Legend, 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, Borgata — The 39-year-old singer, songwriter, pianist and actor will bring his “Legendary Christmas Tour” to Atlantic City for the first time. In fact, every place he stops with his holiday tour will be a first. Legend recently released his first holiday album, “A Legendary Christmas,” and is promoting it with a 25-show tour that opens in Florida, closes in San Diego and stops at Borgata the night after Thanksgiving. Tickets are $103, $123, $154 and $203, available through TheBorgata.com.
The Clairvoyants Christmas Show, 9 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 24, Borgata — Magicians and mentalists Thommy Ten and Amélie van Tass — known as The Clairvoyants, who finished second on season 11 of “America’s Got Talent” — and fashioned a Christmas show of magic and mentalist maneuvers. Tickets are $49 and $59, available through TheBorgata.com.
Donny & Marie Holiday Tour, 8 p.m. Dec. 1, Borgata —America’s favorite singing siblings are hitting the road this year with a holiday show featuring the sounds and the sights of the season, plus the hits that made them each headliners in their own rights. Tickets are $69, $79, $89 and $99, available through TheBorgata.com.
The Midtown Men, 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, Golden Nugget — The original stars of the smash Broadway musical “Jersey Boys” return to Atlantic City with their takes on hits from the 1960s including the Beatles and Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons. To help matters, Midtown Man Michael Longoria recently released a holiday album titled “Merry Christmas Darling,” which includes “Merry Me This Christmas,” co-written by Longoria. Tickets are $35 and $45, available through Ticketmaster.com.
Tony Orlando and Dawn: A Christmas Reunion, 9 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, Borgata — Tie a yellow gift bow ‘round this show. In between holiday classics, the trio will sing the pop songs that made them one of the hottest acts of the 1970s. Hard to believe it’s been 30 years since TOAD reunited on an Atlantic City casino stage 10 years after they originally split up. Even harder to believe they’re doing a limited tour of their holiday show, which has never been seen in AtlanticCity. Tickets are $59, available through TheBorgata.com.
My Big Gay Italian Christmas, 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8; 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 9, Golden Nugget – First, plant tongue firmly in cheek. Then, get ready for a seven-fishes bellyful of laughs when the Pinnunziato family put a gay/LGBTQ spin on Christmas in the show that picks up where the “My Big Gay…” trilogy (“Big Gay Italian Wedding/Funeral/Midlife Crisis”) left off. Tickets are $79.50, $99 and $129, available through GoldenNugget.com
Under the Streetlamp’s “Hip to the Holidays,” 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 11, Caesars Atlantic City — Holiday hits from a four-man vocal group consisting of former stars of Broadway shows like “Jersey Boys.” Tickets are $45, available through Ticketmaster.com.
Entertainer Frankie Z, Saturday, Dec. 15, Resorts Casino Hotel — The former singer for the boy-band WOW is out on his own now, has opened for some major stars and returns to Resorts with a holiday-flavored show. Tickets are $30 and $40, available through Ticketmaster.com.
“The Nutcracker,” presented by the Atlantic City Ballet, 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15; 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16, Caesars Atlantic City — Now that the Atlantic City Ballet has a relationship with a major casino, it has the wide open stage and towering fly loft of Caesars’ Circus Maximus Theater in which to present this iconic holiday ballet. Tickets are $40, available through Ticketmaster.com.
“A Magical Cirque Christmas,” 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15, Harrah’s Resort — Take some of the world’s most amazing acrobatic athletes and circus acts, who perform maneuvers with their bodies that seem extraordinary, if not impossible. Then add some Christmas carols and all kinds of holiday sights and sounds and comedy and more and you’ve got perhaps the ultimate family show of the holiday season. Tickets are $28 and $48, available through Ticketmaster.com.
“Jingle: A Magical Holiday Spectacular,” Nov. 25-Dec. 21, Tropicana — One of the most consistent holiday presentations in the casinos is the original production show produced each year for Tropicana. This year’s holiday spectacular turns one of the largest stages on the east coast into a magical winter wonderland featuring glamorous dancers in dazzling costumes, angelic singers, music box ballerinas, dancing soldiers, Atlantic City magical favorites Kevin and Caruso and much more. It’s pure holiday entertainment for the family. Days and show times vary. Tickets are $30 for adults and $10 for children 16 and under. For days, times and tickets, go to Ticketmaster.com.
The Burlesque Holiday Show, 9 p.m. Dec. 26-30; 10 p.m. Dec.31, Borgata — Now in its sixth year, producer Allen Valentine has added some naughty-but-nice holiday elements to this modern-day throwback to the days when burlesque was America’s form of racy entertainment. It’s a sex holiday show, but it never crosses any lines or barriers. It’s just something a little but fun and a little but different. No one under 21 admitted. Tickets are $30, available through TheBorgata.com.
Meanwhile, Atlantic City doesn’t have the market cornered on holiday entertainment. Here are some other holiday shows in the region:
Christmas with the Celts, Sunday, Dec. 2, Grunin Center for the Arts, Toms River — A holiday musical celebration starring the international music group The Celts and a cast of dancers. Tickets are $35-$39, available at GruninCenter.org
Twelve Twenty-Four, 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7, Levoy Theater, Millville. Now touring with its 17th year of holiday music by the resounding rock orchestra. Tickets are $32-$37, available through Levoy.net
Bay Atlantic Symphony’s Holiday Concert, 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, Landis Theater, Vineland — South Jersey’s symphony presents a program of holiday classics for different faiths. Tickets are $10-$30, available through LandisTheater.com.
“The Nutcracker,” presented by the Atlantic City Ballet at Stockton University, 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7; 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8, Stockton University — Tickets are $33. Available at StocktonPAC.org
Comedian Ana Gasteyer brings her “Holiday Tipple” to the Grunin Center 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15. Tickets are $35, available at GruninCenter.org
Cape May’s East Lynne Theater Company presents O. Henry’s Christmas Tales 8 p.m. Nov. 24 to Dec. 8. Tickets are $28, available through EastLynneTheater.org
“An Actor’s Carol” by Charles Evered is being performed at Cape May Stage Thursdays to Sundays through Dec. 30. Evening shows are 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. The play revolves around a cranky actor who, having played Scrooge too many times, finds himself visited by three spirits of his own. Tickets are $25-$40. Dec. 16 is pay-what-you-wish night. Go to CapeMayStage.org.
Congress Hall, in association with Cape May Stage, presents “The Santaland Diaries,” Nov. 24, 25, 29, 30 and Dec. 1. Show times 7:30 p.m. Nov. 24, Nov. 29-Dec. 1; 3 pm. Nov. 25. General admission tickets are $25. Lunch and dinner packages available, all through capemaystage.org or 609 770-8311.