Friday, June 6, 2003 | 8:47 a.m.
What: "The Magic of Rick Thomas."
When: 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays.
Where: Tropicana's Tiffany Theatre.
Tickets: $19.65, $25.15.
Information: (702) 739-7222.
Rating (out of 5 stars): *** 1/2
There's no mystery why Rick Thomas has one of the most successful matinees in Las Vegas.
The tall (6-foot-4-inch), handsome, graceful performer is a top-flight magician -- last year he was given the Magician of the Year Award by the Academy of Magical Arts, joining the ranks of such legends as the late Doug Henning and Harry Blackstone Jr., along with local peers Lance Burton, Penn and Teller and Siegfried and Roy.
He has a charming personality.
He is witty.
And his tickets are only $19.65 ($25.15 for booth seating).
"The Magic of Rick Thomas" is a bargain, one that can be enjoyed by the entire family. There isn't any nudity or profanity, bucking a trend that seems to have Las Vegas in a sexual frenzy these days.
Bring the kids. Bring Grandma and Grandpa. Bring your minister.
Everyone will have a pleasant afternoon at the Tropicana's Tiffany Theatre, where later that night the "Folies Bergere" will perform its classic topless show.
After almost six years of performing two shows daily except Friday, Thomas changed his schedule a couple of weeks ago. His dark day is Sunday, which may explain why a recent Friday performance did not draw a big crowd.
The personable illusionist routinely fills the room with fans who enjoy his brand of magic, some of which is pretty basic stuff (levitating an assistant lying on a board stretched across two chairs) and some of which is amazing (such as producing two Bengal tigers in cages dangling in midair).
At times the Tiffany stage resembles a zoo.
Thomas opens his shows with doves, a la Lance Burton. He produces them out of scarves, out of flames, out of nowhere.
The act then dovetails to a pair of cockatoos -- Buddy and Sally.
"I hate birds," Thomas says with mock chagrin. "I hate the feathers that fly all over the place.
"Buddy is a Moluccan cockatoo, 14 years old. They live up to 100 years, the longest-living bird in the world."
One of the funniest bits in Thomas' repertoire is Buddy's two impressions.
On cue, Buddy does his impression of an eagle -- he rises on Thomas' hand, spreads his wings and remains rigid.
Then, he does an impression of a bat, going limp and falling into an upside down position.
"That's it," moans Thomas. "Fourteen years."
No matter how often you see it, it's funny.
Thomas segues from animals to children.
Fans will leave the theater knowing a lot about Thomas' life. He and his sister began ballroom dance lessons at age 5 and became Junior U.S. Ballroom Dance champions; at age 7 he began to learn magic, and by age 18 he was performing at Disneyland Hotel in Southern California, and then spent years on cruise ships and in Asia.
Paying homage to his own youth, Thomas brings a young male volunteer to the stage to help him with a levitation routine that is more interesting because of its humor than because of the trick. Watching an embarrassed adolescent work with a scantily clad female assistant is always good for a chuckle.
From children, Thomas moves on to his pride of Bengal tigers -- white ones and orange ones.
"There are 100 white tigers in the world," Thomas jokes. "Siegfried and Roy have 99 of them. I have one."
One crowd-pleaser that entails the illusion of shrinking a full-sized white Bengal tiger down to a miniature one was missing from a recent performance. A small, year-old cub used in the routine had been bitten by a spider and was ill the day of the performance.
But there were enough tricks involving the other tigers to satisfy the audience.
Thomas' show lacks the spectacle of Siegfried & Roy, the technology of Steve Wyrick or the edginess of Penn and Teller, but the affable illusionist is worth the price of admission, and it is an afternoon well spent.
His magic is enhanced by his stage presence.
Whether he is doing shtick such as creating the illusion of putting a broken watch back together, cutting a woman in half or performing the age-old interlocking rings trick, Thomas' showmanship levitates his performance above the routine.