Eddie Bruce’s Latin Casino - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart
Latin Casino | photo courtesy of Eddie Bruce

Though once located at 1309 Walnut Street, the Latin Casino – Cherry Hill’s “Showplace of the Stars” – opened its gilded doors and glittering drapes in 1960 to ring-a-ding entertainment options from Frank Sinatra to Donna Summer. For practically the next two decades, it hosted every swinging, crooning, joking, era-appropriate act you could think (Ella Fitzgerald, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers), until it closed in 1978. Yes, its shuttering was partially due to Atlantic City’s new-found wealth of casino stages, but the Latin was probably a victim of its time, what with disco and new wave music having the flash that a Lanie Kazan and a Rusty Warren once had to fill up the Latin.

I spent much more time at what the Latin became – Emerald City – than what it had been, yet, fondly remember my mom and dad taking me to the N.J. supper club to see New Orleans trumpeter Al Hirt, Sinatra and (wow, if memory isn’t failing me), Ray Charles; all of which looked like the illustrious nightclub scene in “Goodfellas” where Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco come sweeping into the Copa and into the waiting arms of mob goobahs and Jerry Vale. It was beautiful.

Philadelphia-based cabaret artist Eddie Bruce has many of the same memories, so much so that he, and event co-producer Bruce Klauber, created Eddie Bruce Remembering the Latin Casino. The show premiered at World Cafe Live in January, and returns this fall with a preview showcase Monday, October 1, and the gig itself on Sunday, Oct. 14 at the Mandell Theater with a 17-piece band, and singer Paula Johns doing her own Ella Fitzgerald routine.

Latin Casino | via Gannett

As the songs of Eddie Bruce Remembering the Latin Casino are pretty much the standard Great American Songbook fare — Gershwin, Rogers, Bacharach and beyond — there must be a vibe that the local crooner will essay to make it his own, while conjuring the red velvet and brass rings of the Latin.

“Probably the first way that we are bringing that vibe is the use of a full orchestra, 17 pieces at this point – 13 horns and a four-piece rhythm section,” said Bruce enthusiastically. “It is so rare to see that, but I believe this music demands the full treatment.”

Bruce goes on to say that even the nights’ visuals will conjure up that Swinging 60s-into-70s look with an opening montage (“a commercial for Don Rickles’ appearance at the Latin…photos of those long tables and the faces of people in the audience”) and his personal recollections (“I have first-hand stories to share…I was there over 20 times in my youth, the first time at age six”) will be Latin Latin Latin.

“The Latin Casino, both on Walnut Street in Philadelphia and in Cherry Hill, NJ, was a magic and electrifying place that had such an astounding and charismatic vibe, that the anticipation of seeing a Frank, Dean or Sammy was almost as exciting as the show itself,” stated Klauber. “It built up on the drive there, then intensified as you walked into the lobby, and went through the ritual – maybe of schtupping the maitre’d to get seats close to the stage. Then there was an overture, the opening comic, and then…’the star of the show.’”

Bruce claimed that, at the Latin Casino, you could “for a very meager cover…breathe the same air as Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin or Don Rickles or Diana Ross. That made it electric. My experience there created dreams for me that have lasted a lifetime.”

That electric lifetime will be reflected in Bruce & Co.’s really big show, one where he won’t tip off the whole set list, save to include signature moments from Tony Bennett (“If I Ruled the World”), Ella Fitzgerald (“How High the Moon,” “Mr. Paganini”) Sammy Davis Jr. (“Birth of the Blues,” “Hey There”) and the great Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme duet written by Steve Allen, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big”

And it is.

“That kind of magic and vibe just doesn’t exist today,” said Klauber. “But I’ll tell you this, Eddie’s show comes awfully close.”

Eddie Bruce’s Latin Casino comes to the Mandell Theater on Sunday, October 14th at 3 p.m. Tickets and more information can be found here.

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