Tuesday, May 28, 2013 | 6 p.m.
For a small magic show, it pulled off some amazing trickery with its gorgeous topless beauties, but now just three weeks after its opening at the Downtown Plaza, it has completely vanished. And it has left the cast stranded without their producer’s promised paychecks and contracts being honored.
Conjure up images in your mind of “Centerfolds of Magic,” and you picture gorgeous nude models from the pages of Penthouse and Playboy performing eye-popping illusions to rival the Strip’s best. That was the concept of its creator, magic builder John Lewis, and Penthouse Pet of the Year Taya Parker.
Instead, just days after they opened, they were kicked out by the investor who wanted budgets drastically reduced. John took all his magic and illusions with him. Instead of the curvy brunette bombshell Taya, veteran comedian Joe Trammel became the host, and, although he stripped down to his underwear, he was no sexy centerfold.
Former three-term Mayor Oscar Goodman, who has his steakhouse Beef, Booze & Broads in the Plaza, stopped to congratulate Taya on her success for the few days she starred in the show. The female tricksters had to run to local magic shops to buy over-the-counter tricks. Instead of the topless temptresses, veteran magician Arian Black, who loaned her props, became the featured act.
Now just days after she joined the show, the investor pulled the plug over Memorial Day Weekend and left the cast and crew without their weekly paycheck. It’s a torrid tale of broken promises and failed investment funds, and what could have been a great Downtown show at the Plaza has disappeared through no fault of the cast or Plaza.
I saw it May 3 — two days after its opening — and the show could’ve easily become a hit. Taya was funny and had the audience in the palm of her hands with her perky personality and figure. The topless girls were gorgeous and sexy, and it was a nonstop barrage of magic illusions.
Then almost immediately, the financial shenanigans began. Taya tried to rescue the show as it deteriorated in the investor mess but had to quit because her contract wasn’t honored. She even wound up paying $2,000 for her costumes.
A new publicity agent was hired who on May 10 announced that Taya was no longer hostess and that Joe would host and perform his act. Arian, who was voted Female Magician of the Year in 2004, became the featured act but was not topless.
She last headlined here at Fitzgerald’s (now The D Hotel) with “Secrets” and then in its larger version at the Westin three years ago. The Canadian illusionist was the opening act in 2008 for The Amazing Jonathan.
Arian brought in her own props for the production, but her run ended Sunday when the show was shut down by the investor a day before payday. Rumors out of the hotel were that the cast and all the props went unpaid.
My Las Vegas Weekly colleague Rick Lax, who saw the first performance open to the public, said, “Here’s the amazing thing. The show wasn’t a train wreck. The show was a triumph.” I agreed that it wasn’t perfect because of minor technical hiccups, but Taya brilliantly covered with her humor, and it was fun, loose and light. “Taya was hilarious, spontaneous and brave as hell,” Rick said.
When I interviewed Taya shortly after she quit, she told me: “John Lewis and I really believed in the show in this beautiful theater. I tried to be a hero, tried to look after the cast and give the investor a chance to get the financial side working. But I had to walk away because he wouldn’t honor my contract.
“There’s no shame in leaving when it was no longer the show or the deal that had been promised. I gave him a chance to fix it and agreed to stay on. I wanted to be loyal to the Plaza that had shown me so much hospitality.
“I wanted to help to keep the show going even as the investor cut back and cut back. I was there every day for 4 p.m. rehearsing nightly by 6 p.m., but the investor never even tried to get John Lewis’ equipment returned. I tried really hard to help bring about a successful conclusion. It was an amazing room, and the Plaza’s executives who had a full understanding of the entire process that was going on were nice, friendly and told me I was being a trooper.
“I showed them all the emails and the contract to keep them fully informed as to what was happening. I said I was willing to stake my reputation even when the financial troubles started three days into the run.
“Every day, we got a different prop to work with; by my last night, the crystal casket I opened the show with had become a dog carrier. My manager said, ‘No way is a star going to come out of a kennel.’ I wasn’t going to be insulted anymore, and that was after I was told my contract wasn’t going to be honored. I am not a bitch. I am not a diva, but I have my self-esteem and wasn’t going to be insulted any further.
“It’s all such a shame. I wanted to be really proud of it. Every deadline that the investor promised to meet was missed. So I left to go back home on my own terms with my dignity intact.”
I learned of the show’s closure Monday from disappointed sources at Plaza. I reached out to Taya about the conclusion of the ill-fated show, but she refused to make any comments.
I also talked with the financial backer the night I saw the show, and he told me that he was investing a fortune in it with a massive advertising campaign with taxis and billboards. He said he loved Taya being the star. He said he loved John’s illusions and invited me to his home to meet the cast at a celebration.
A day later, May 4, the financial problems started, and John was the to be ousted. Now just 24 days later, it’s all over. It’s sad for what would have been a great show. Sad for Taya and the cast and all those involved. It should never have happened this way.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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The Plaza, renovated in 2011, has a lobby that features marble and inlaid mosaic tiles, chandeliers and a plush front desk that matches the classic Las Vegas feel with a contemporary look.
The hotel has 1,003 rooms and suites that showcase views of the Las Vegas Strip and downtown Las Vegas. Amenities include world-class entertainment, a casino floor that offers an array of classic gaming choice, which include 600 slot machines, a 400-seat bingo room, 18 table games and 57,120 square feet of casino space.
Among the dining options is Oscar's Beef * Booze * Broads, a steakhouse opened by former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar B. Goodman, which is located in the glittery dome enclosure above the hotel's main entrance.
The Plaza sits at the west end of the Fremont Street Experience on the site of the first train depot and auction site in Las Vegas, dating back to the San Pedro-Los Angeles-Salt Lake Railroad in 1905. The railroad was sold to Union Pacific in 1921 and the depot was demolished in 1970 to make way for the Union Plaza Hotel, built in 1971.
The hotel has been featured or is visible in several movies, including the 1971 James Bond film, "Diamonds are Forever;" the 1989 film "Back to the Future Part II;" the 1995 move "Casino," and the 2000 movie "Pay it Forward."