Magic Casts a Spell over Las Vegas
Seeing is believing as illusionists and magicians reappear all over The Strip.
BY MEGG MUELLER
Merriam-Webster defines magic as “the use of means (such as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces.” I appreciate the need for a concise definition, but magic exists in the world in so many forms I think in this case, the venerable dictionary has sold the concept a little short.
Magic in Las Vegas exists around every corner, on almost every stage. Traditional magic shows saw a heyday in the ‘80s and ‘90s, with names like Siegfried and Roy and David Copperfield ruling The Strip with sold-out shows and lavish productions. While it never disappeared, magic took a back seat for a couple decades with the rise of celebrity residencies and Cirque shows. Card tricks and disappearing rabbits were no longer cool.
And yet, with just the wave of a wand, magic has come back into vogue. While he doesn’t use a wand in his act, magician Mat Franco has done as much as anyone to levitate the magic show back to its former heights. Mat first appeared in Las Vegas at the Riviera Hotel when he was just 15 years old. Fast-forward to 2014 when Mat became a star as the first magician to win the popular TV show “America’s Got Talent.”
In 2015, Mat started his residency at The Linq Hotel and Casino, performing his show, “Magic Reinvented Nightly,” in the theater that now bears his name. His show is funny and personal, without a lot of drama or excessive theatrics. He connects to the audience in an informal way, bantering and taking his cue from the audience. He retrieves an audience member’s signed $100 bill from a huge pile of ramen noodle packs, despite letting the participant choose which one would be opened; another trick sees wine bottles and glasses move mysteriously back and forth from empty tubes; and yet another sees him on stage doing an amazing trick with coins when he suddenly appears at the back of the theater.
It’s been a long road for Mat, but he took some time to chat with us about his show, living in Las Vegas, and the future of magic.
Your residency began in August 2015, and you moved to Las Vegas full time. Any surprises about living in Las Vegas? Do you feel at home now?
Having lived in Las Vegas for almost three years now, I’m constantly impressed with the great sense of community we have here. I suppose since the economy is driven so strongly by tourism, it lends itself to locals really taking care of each other. I tend to settle into new places fairly quickly, and Las Vegas has been no exception. It’s an honor to be embraced by a city with such rich entertainment history, and it very much feels like home to me.
Your first big show was in Las Vegas as a kid of 15. What did it mean to you when The LINQ renamed its theater in 2017 for you?
It’s really surreal. I entertain people to bring joy and happiness to the world in my own small way. To me, that is the real magic. Awards and recognition are unexpected bonuses; it’s still hard to wrap my head around it all.
Your magic is done up-close-and personal with your audiences, and I know you watched your favorite magicians on VHS as a kid, studying their moves. How do you keep your magic secrets from your audience when you are so close to them?
I believe attention to detail is the key. The methods behind the magic are just a small, but important, part of the equation. Everything in the show is reviewed very closely under test conditions before it is seen by our audiences. It’s worth it to put in the extra effort, because our audiences deserve the best possible show and magical experience.
Where do you get ideas for new tricks?
Inspiration can come from anywhere, even the most unlikely scenarios that take place in daily life. I imagine it’s like songwriting, where an idea can come through in a dream, or while doing a mundane task. While it might only take an instant to get the spark of imagination, it’s the weeks and months that follow which require the real work of figuring out how to make the impossible become possible. I usually start with a fun concept or theme that inherently has an impossible element to it, and then I try to reverse engineer how to make that idea come to life.
How long does it generally take to master a new trick? Who is your practice audience?
I have some signature pieces in the show that have been staples for me for the last seven or so years, but even those effects continue to evolve and improve over time. On average, I would say it takes several weeks or months of preparation before a new effect is put in front of my audience. I usually share new concepts with a close network of friends and family to get initial feedback. After that, it can take 50 or more trial performances in front of real people before the routine really finds itself. There is a lot of trial and error and small tweaks to get things to feel just right.
You have worked with cards, wine bottles, scarves, milk cartons, fire…is anything off limits?
Nothing is off limits! I tend to be fairly minimal in my use of props, because the show is really about my connection with the audience. However, I let the concept dictate what props are needed to achieve the desired magical effect. So, as a result of that, I have found myself doing some pretty crazy things, like magically appearing on a moving bus in New York City, or transporting myself in an instant across the world’s largest observation wheel, the High Roller on the LINQ Promenade in Las Vegas.
Magic is cool again, in no small part thanks to you. Where do you see the future of magic, say in the next 5-10 years?
Thanks for the kind words! I think it’s important to keep magic fresh and current for modern audiences. I believe magic will continue to grow in the coming years because it’s becoming even more of a unique novelty today. We live in a world where we can find the answer to just about anything with a quick online search. However, when you step into my theater in Las Vegas, I’m able to transport people into a special world where even google doesn’t have the answers! The world loves and needs a good mystery, and I love facilitating that journey.
GET IN ON THE TRICK
Mat Franco’s “Magic Reinvented Nightly”
3535 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
They Can Do MAGIC:
World-class magician and illusionist Rick Thomas dazzles guests for a two-night engagement at the South Point Showroom. For the past 15 years, Thomas performed hundreds of shows a year and has hosted world tours that span five continents. Thomas now tours the world performing illusions with a style unlike any other. Guests can expect a performance that blends innovative illusions, magic, music, and dance for an evening that will leave them in awe at the end of the show.
March 2-4: 7:30 p.m.
South Point Hotel
9777 S Las Vegas Blvd.
Penn & Teller
Penn & Teller debuted in Las Vegas in 1993 and have been performing at the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino since 2001. They are currently the longest-running headliners to play in the same Las Vegas hotel. Known for their outrageous blending of magic and comedy, Penn & Teller’s Las Vegas show skewers traditional hat-and-rabbit magic tricks with provocative, hilarious, and often amazing results. The dynamic duo continues their Las Vegas show, 21 years and counting. Penn & Teller’s live show on any given night can also involve knives, guns, a fire-eating showgirl, and a cow.
Sunday–Saturday: 9 p.m.
Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino
3700 W. Flamingo Road
David Copperfield is a legendary showman who’s been hailed by audiences and critics alike as the “greatest illusionist of our time.” In addition to decades of television events, worldwide tours and a critically acclaimed Broadway show, Copperfield continues to confound and delight audiences with his unbelievable illusions and charming stories.
Sunday–Friday: 7 p.m.; and 9:30 p.m.
Saturday: 4 p.m.; 7 p.m.; and 9:30 p.m.
3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Based on Angel’s hit TV show, “Mindfreak,” which counted an audience of more than 100 million viewers in each of its six seasons on A&E, “Mindfreak Live!” showcases 90-minutes of the most spectacular, original and revolutionary illusions ever performed on stage. For 10 years, with a cast that includes talented specialty artists, Angel has brought his vision to life with a blend of heart-stopping original illusions, state-of-the-art animated LED lighting, RGB laser explosions, LED virtual worlds, 3-D immersive effects, pyrotechnic landscapes, live musicians/DJ, and much more. Angel recently announced the final performance of “Mindfreak Live!” will be Oct. 28.
Wednesday–Sunday: 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Luxor Hotel & Casino
3900 Las Vegas Blvd. South
‘Masters of Illusion’
“Masters of Illusion” delivers a mystifying and jaw-dropping performance at Bally’s Las Vegas. Masterfully weaving a series of grand illusions with mind-blowing sleight-of-hand, and everything in between, the show features performances by magicians Jason Bird, Farrell Dillon, Greg Gleason, Chris Randall, and Tommy Wind. Each with their own extensive career in magic expertly showcased, this team of illusionists has joined forces to create an exciting and hilarious evening of entertainment that’s fun for the whole family. Interlacing the magic vignettes together throughout the show is a group of talented male and female dancing assistants led by the mysterious “Woman in Red.”
Wednesday–Monday: 7 p.m.
Bally’s Las Vegas
3645 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Piff the Magic Dragon
Piff the Magic Dragon may bill himself as the Loser of Season 10 of “America’s Got Talent,” but the plucky British magician/comedian/genuine magic dragon has played to sold-out crowds on tour dates across the United States. Along with Mr. Piffles, the World’s First Magic Performing Chihuahua, Piff performs at the Flamingo through the end of the year with a brand new show. Since its launch in November 2015, the Las Vegas show has been an evolving mix of greatest hits and new tricks from a repertoire that stretches more than 10 years.
Sunday–Saturday: 8 p.m.
Flamingo Las Vegas
3555 Las Vegas Blvd. South
“Inferno,” a fire spectacular that has taken Europe and Asia by storm has landed at Paris Las Vegas. The brand-new show is led by critically acclaimed European illusionist Joe Labero and the most exciting fire, pyro and aerial group in the world, The Fuel Girls, and features death-defying stunts, jaw-dropping illusions, and more fire than you can imagine. Labero uses mind-bending magic to tame nature’s most powerful element through all-new jaw-dropping illusions. The Fuel Girls will dazzle with huge fire props including flaming swords and whips, crowns of fire, arena-scale pyro rings, dragon canes, pyro staffs, and spinning fire cubes, while manipulating the fire itself in death-defying floor and aerial acts.
Wednesday–Sunday: 9:30 p.m.
Paris Las Vegas
3655 Las Vegas Blvd. South
‘Murray the Magician’
Direct from “America’s Got Talent” and History Channel’s “Pawn Stars,” “Murray the Magician” is a family-friendly comedy magic show at the Planet Hollywood Hotel. Murray Sawchuck dazzled the judges and 22 million people as a finalist on “America’s Got Talent” and currently stars in his own TV series, “Extreme Escapes.” His show puts a premium on audience participation, so get ready to be part of the magic.
Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Saturday: 4 p.m.
Planet Hollywood Hotel
3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Xavier Mortimer’s ‘Magical Dream’
After gracing stages in more than 30 countries and most recently starring in Cirque du Soleil’s acclaimed show “Michael Jackson ONE,” French export Xavier Mortimer marks the first Cirque performer to launch a headlining residency on The Strip. Along with his unconventional cast of characters, Mortimer takes the audience on an adventure they won’t soon forget. Spectators will be amazed by how the magic poetically unfolds through more than 14 acts in this wild dream. With the wonder of Mary Poppins, and the theatrics of Charlie Chaplin, this all-ages production transcends entertainment.
Sunday-Thursday, Saturdays: 7 p.m.
Planet Hollywood Hotel
3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Get ready for the first Spanish-language-only residency show on The Strip. “Ilusión Mental” transports audiences into a realm of infinite possibilities. Enter a new universe with Santiago Michel, your guide through the secret doorways and hidden passages of the human mind. A 65-minute all-ages performance, “Ilusión Mental” casts the mind of the audience as the hero of the story unfolding onstage. From accurately determining if the audience is telling a truth or a lie to guessing exactly which celebrity they have in their heads to hypnotizing the most stubborn deniers of magic, Santiago Michel offers a rare and compelling glimpse into the supernatural.
Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Saturday: 5:30 p.m.
Planet Hollywood Hotel
3667 Las Vegas Blvd. South
Krystal the Magician
The Golden Tiki Bar has gone retro, offering free tableside illusions by Krystal the Magician. Krystal was born and raised in Vegas and she grew up pulling pranks, which tied into a love of magic later on. “Other magicians have these wonderful backgrounds—they love to bring wonder into peoples lives, see a child’s eyes light up for a magic trick, etc.,” she says. “I just like tricking people.” In high school, she bought a trick deck and got away with so much because of it, she now believes magic is the most acceptable way to be a jerk. She worked in magic shops, and stopped that a few years ago to perform full time. “I’m circulating some new tricks into my Tiki Bar set. I like using everyday objects; smartphones, rubber bands, and money tricks. Sometimes I’ll teach people a good bar bet or two, if they ask,” Krystal notes. “And the owner has said I’m not allowed to pick pocket any of the customers, so that’s another great reason to come watch!”
Fridays, Saturdays: 8 p.m.
The Golden Tiki Bar
3939 Spring Mountain Road