No one can accuse the non-gaming Showboat Hotel of not trying to introduce an entertainment program that strays a little off the beaten path from the more conventional entertainment found in Boardwalk casinos.
Submitted for your approval this summer is a series of Friday night shows from July 5 through Aug. 30 titled “Off-Boardwalk at the Showboat Hotel.”
Produced for Showboat by Jupiter Productions of Philadelphia, whose Executive Producer Sonya Aronowitz considers “Off-Boardwalk” an intoxicating mix of theater, cabaret and drag performances. The goal of the shows, obviously, is to entertain an audience.
But Aronowitz and her company also have an ulterior motive in mounting a series of summer shows in a Boardwalk hotel.
“We want to play a part in the renaissance of the Atlantic City Boardwalk,” says Aronowitz, who first discovered her love for theater growing up in Manchester, England.
“We’ve got the talent in Philadelphia but we’re also working with local (offices) on the production side, so we want to help tell that story,” she adds. “There’s a lot of quality entertainment that we can bring, and if this goes well, I’d love to bring some more shows, more theater under this Off-Boardwalk (series).
The cabaret series will be presented every Friday featuring one artist or an ensemble performing sets at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m.
Philadelphia-born singer and actress Joilet Harris, who has 37 years of professional acting and music experience, will lead off the “Off-Boardwalk” series this Friday.
As an actress, Harris has been featured on the long-running NBC cop series “Law & Order: SVU,” has played a detective for two seasons on “The Wire” and has appeared in movies like “Rocky V” and “12 Monkeys.”
As an actress who sings, she’s played the title role of the late jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald in the musical “Ella: The Ella Fitzgerald Story.”
You can expect to hear some of Fitzgerald’s tunes during Harris’ performances at Showboat on July 5, 12, 19 and 26.
“I incorporate her into most of the cabaret shows I do,” Harris says. “I actually work with a (bass player) who did the (“Ella Fitzgerald”) tour with me, and he kept saying, ‘Do some Ella, do some Ella,’” Harris recalls. “I said they may not want to hear Ella, and he kept saying, ‘Do some Ella.’ So I started adding it to the (cabaret) shows.”
But Harris, who was born, raised and educated in Philadelphia — she went to Temple University to study law but said it “didn’t work out” — says she’ll do more than just Ella Fitzgerald during her Showboat gigs.
“I’m doing stuff from different eras, everything from the vaudeville era to (current music). I’ll do things like ‘You’re Not the Only Oyster in the Sea’ and ‘Summer Love with Joi,’” she says. “I’m going to do songs that will make you fall in love, or maybe walk away from love, like maybe (the song) ‘Go Away, Little Boy.’ I also like to do some Jill Scott, I have some Adele, Chaka Kahn and quite a few Diana Krall. I’m bringing in some little pieces of everybody. We may even do some sing-a-longs.”
In August, “Off-Boardwalk” will feature a troupe known as The Bearded Ladies of Cabaret, with special guests. Go to the head of the line if you’ve already surmised it will have a drag show element to it.
“Typically yes, but they also have guest performers who are not in drag,” Aronowitz says. John Jarboe, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret founder and artistic director, usually performs in drag, she says.
“The drag costumes are typically the most fun in the show,” she adds. “What’s brilliant about these shows is that there are great performances as well as incredible costumes and fashion.”
One special guest attraction will be the Aug. 2 performance by Eric Jaffe, a comedic singer and composer of original and irreverent song parodies.
Jaffe is something of a Philadelphia drag queen legend. During last year’s Philadelphia Drag Awards, he won best host, best alternative drag queen and drag queen of the year.
Jaffe will only perform a one-night stand. Show time for Jaffe and the Bearded Ladies of Cabaret will change for that one night; the time changes haven’t been announced. But the Bearded Ladies will definitely do two sets, only a little later in the evening.
The remaining Fridays in August will be the Bearded Ladies with two sets.
Aronowitz is hoping Jupiter Productions can find a niche in Atlantic City as it continues to mature into more of a destination resort than just another casino town.
Showboat first became aware of Aronowitz when they found her producing “cocktail plays” in wineries and distilleries. They asked her if she could create a unique entertainment program for Showboat, and “Off-Boardwalk at Showboat” was born.
“They gave me a really incredible blank space as a producer, and that’s what I like to do,” she says. “What I like to do is to walk into a venue and just get a sense of it. Then it’s like ‘Hey, I think cocktail plays will probably work in a distillery,’ or a show called ‘Shakespeare Roulette’ is going to go over well in a brewery. So how about if we do the sounds of the summer and cabaret for the Boardwalk? That’s how it all evolved.”