Monday, Nov. 9, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Nathan Burton Comedy Magic
- Where: Flamingo showroom
- When: 4 p.m. Friday-Wednesday (dark Thursday)
- Admission: $34-$44; 733-7460, flamingolasvegas.com
- Running time: 75 minutes
- Audience advisory: Gentle audience participation
Lance Burton Master Magician
- Where: Lance Burton Theatre, Monte Carlo
- When: 7 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (dark Sunday and Monday)
- Admission: $60-$65.50
- Running time: 90 minutes
- Audience advisory: Stage fog, audience participation
Siegfried & Roy were famous for their big cats and large-scale illusions. But one of the duo’s unsung feats of legerdemain was transforming Las Vegas into a world headquarters for magicians. Following the success of the tiger-taming twosome, Vegas became an abracadabra destination and magicians gradually stepped up in status, from part of a variety lineup to headliner status.
I recently spent an enjoyably magical day with two top-billed illusionists, catching back to back performances by the Burtons — Nathan Burton and Lance Burton, that is.
Though they share a surname, the two are not related and they take very different stylistic approaches. But they do have a few things in common:
Both Burtons work wonders with kids chosen from the audience. Both tastefully augment their tricks with decorative showgirls and feature comic jugglers as an interlude. Both shrewdly integrate plugs for branded DVDs, magic kits and other merchandise into their trick shtick. And both make wisecracks along the lines of “You’re not gonna see that at Criss Angel.”
Clean-cut and casual in jacket and jeans, Burton, 36, is rosy-cheeked and boyishly impish — he explains that some of his illusions are based on pranks he pulled as a kid. The show is a family affair — Burton’s sister is his stage manager; his mom, who used to drive him to magic shows, is his manager.
Burton is a prop magician — many of his tricks involve Rube Goldberg-type contraptions, which range from very silly (a toilet paper roll attached to a leaf blower) to sillier still (Burton stuffs himself into “the stainless steel microwave of death”).
He gives a goofy twist to such time-honored tricks as the locked-box word prediction, which he tweaks to incorporate childhood breakfast cereals. His fast-paced act favors vanishings and reappearances, with Burton putting himself or one of his flirty, cute showgirls into some sort of box. In one of these apparatuses, his head revolves at an anatomically impossible 360 degrees at dizzying speed.
As the halftime act, droll jougleur Michael Holly is face-hurtingly funny, juggling two bowling balls and a “full-sized peanut M&M,” awarding himself a medal after each achievement. Occasionally, Burton and Holly playfully toss around a stuffed white tiger — the whole act can be seen as a good-natured goof on other, more self-serious magicians.
Lance Burton insists on being called Lance Burton Master Magician (LBMM), and I have to say he more than deserves the honorific.
Burton begins his long-running show at the Monte Carlo with a video depicting an extreme stunt: In 1999, he had himself chained to the tracks of Primm’s Desperado roller coaster with just 90 seconds to free himself.
It’s an oddly incongruous opening: Burton is a magician in the classic style, and his elegant act combines the past and future of magic’s traditions, acknowledging such illustrious prestidigitating predecessors as Harry Kellar and Howard Thurston while incorporating high-tech touches into his often gorgeous illusions.
Burton, 49, doesn’t look much like the dewy boy-bander pictured in his soft-focus magazine ads — with his black brushcut and squinty grin, he more closely resembles Clint Eastwood as a magician. A debonair James Bond sort of character, he materializes in black tie and tails and goes through at least a half dozen changes of snazzy jackets.
“We’re all going to go on a magical journey,” Burton says as he unpacks his daddy’s old suitcase — out step six showgirls.
His effects run from elemental gambits with white doves and ducks and a tiny white bird named Elvis to more fantastic maneuvers: Burton levitates a showgirl — and himself — in a love scene to remember. He invokes Frank Sinatra, multiplying liquor bottles on a cafe table. He ups the ante on the old sawing-a-woman-in-half illusion, cutting a man and a woman into eight pieces, reassembling them incorrectly and then gender-switching them. And he outdoes David Copperfield, materializing a white convertible and driving it around the stage, before flying away with it.
When Burton disappears for a breather, he turns the stage over to Michael Goudeau, an instantly endearing absurdist juggler who tosses three enormous bean bag chairs, knives and ultimately flaming torches while wobbily perched atop a 6-foot unicycle.
Burton has an easy, assured touch with audience volunteers. On the night I saw the show, he turned a 9-year-old boy into a slot machine, coins pouring from his ears and dropped jaw, then transformed a Japanese tourist into a tuxedoed magician, who was hilariously mystified by his sudden ability to perform a series of close magic tricks.
“Now folks, we don’t ask you to believe this is real magic,” Burton said near the show’s end, as he folded a trusting showgirl into a Plexiglas box — and then ran it through with swords.
“The question we ask is: ‘Is the trick done well?’ ”
The answer: Never better.