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September 22, 2014

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Tricks of the trade

Magician Lance Burton

When: 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays; 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays; additional show at 7 p.m. on Sept. 3

Where: Monte Carlo's Lance Burton Theatre

Tickets: $66.50 to $72.50; 730-7160

Mentalist Gerry McCambridge

When: 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays

Where: Stardust Showroom

Tickets: $27.95 to $32.95; 732-6325

One has been a headliner on the Strip for 15 years; the other for two months. Lance Burton and Gerry McCambridge perform tricks. Amazing tricks. Jaw-dropping, head-scratching tricks. Tricks that astound audiences even though they know they are tricks.

Burton built his reputation as one of the world's top magicians on astonishing feats, such as his escape from the chains binding him to the tracks as a roller coaster bore down on him. He has parlayed his fame into a $27 million theater built especially for him at the Monte Carlo.

His show begins with his sleight of hand. After materializing onstage in dramatic fashion, the magician fills the air with birds. Doves fly out of canes, out of fire, out of torn-up paper. A white canary named Elvis comes out of a shredded napkin. Burton puts Elvis in a round, wire cage that floats across stage.

Then he moves on to bigger tricks. He coaxes six female assistants out of a suitcase. He levitates a Corvette above the stage and then makes it disappear - with Burton and a youngster inside.

Newcomer McCambridge is a mentalist, reading people's minds and trying to create enough buzz at the Stardust so that he can find a permanent home when the legendary showroom closes this fall. Anyone who has seen the show has walked away in disbelief, awed by his seemingly psychic powers.

"You were born on the East Coast," he tells one guest.

"A little higher."

"You're a Connecticut person."

"Yes."

"Hartford?"

"Yes."

He moves on to another guest.

"Who is Kimberly?" he asks the surprised fan.

"My daughter."

"She's 16 or 17?"

"Nineteen."

"Is there a Justin here?" McCambridge says as a volunteer stands up. "Are you married, sir?

"No, I'm not."

"Who is Tammy?"

"She's my girlfriend."

"Who is James?"

"I work with him."

He asks another audience member to announce the name of the first person she had a crush on. With her husband sitting beside her, she seems embarrassed but names a man she has neither seen nor thought about in 30 years: "Jackie."

McCambridge takes an envelope from inside his jacket, opens it and takes out a piece of paper inscribed: "Jackie."

Although each of the mentalist's shows is similar, each is different because of the audience involvement. He opens the show with one volunteer holding a telephone book, another randomly choosing a page, another choosing a column on the page and then McCambridge running his finger down the column until the first volunteer tells him to stop. He reveals the number is the same one he wrote down at the start of the show.

In another bit, he has a volunteer randomly rotate the hands of a watch and to stop when he tells them to. Blindfolded, he rotates his own watch - and both watches stop at the same hour and minute.

He tells fans he has no psychic powers but uses a variety of skills to create that illusion - including the power of persuasion, memory techniques, reading body language and knowledge of the law of averages.

McCambridge, 45, started out as a magician but switched to mentalism 20 years ago.

"Magic is the art of misdirection," McCambridge says. "Mentalism is the art of riding the fine line between intuition and illusion."

He spent a year at the Rampart in Summerlin before moving his one-man show to the 200-seat Hypnotic Lounge at the Stardust in June. He was struggling to fill the room in the tough 5 p.m. time slot - when most casino patrons are eating. When the topless production "Headlights & Tailpipes" closed, he jumped at the chance to play the 9 p.m. show in the 900-seat Stardust showroom, the former Wayne Newton Theater.

Even the mentalist can't predict what the future holds for him. The Stardust isn't taking reservations for its hotel after Nov. 1, and the venue is expected to be closed by the end of the year to make room for the $4 billion Echelon project. He just hopes a few months at one of the Strip's legendary venues will land him a permanent home.

Burton, who's also 45, has been on the Strip for 15 years. He spent five years at the Hacienda before moving to the Monte Carlo, where he just celebrated his 10th anniversary. His contract runs for another three years.

The master of illusion started practicing the art of misdirection at the age of 6 in his native Louisville, Ky. He had become enthralled after a magician called him onstage to be a volunteer.

That's probably why he takes such a keen interest in children in his show, calling for five of them to join him onstage for one bit, which usually means 20 or 30 will come up.

Burton's show, which is always being tweaked, just got a $3 million upgrade. The major change is the Magic Zone scene, a lavish set that has a telephone booth as its focal point. The small booth seems to have the interior of a stadium as cast members appear and disappear inside the closed box.

With all his talent, Burton's greatest asset may be his personality.

He is one of the most successful magicians in the world; he has a theater on the Las Vegas Strip named after him; he has won numerous honors - and yet he has managed to remain humble through it all.

That's the real magic.

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