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Changing tastes threaten magic acts

We’ve all seen (and that’s part of the problem) the Vegas magic show where a woman or a tiger goes into a box and disappears.

Now I’m wondering if we’re seeing the box itself disappear.

Las Vegas is still the mecca for working magicians. But you can say the same for showgirls, and only “Jubilee!” remains as the old-fashioned, feathers-on-the-staircase showgirl spectacular. Showgirls have otherwise evolved into smaller, more contemporary topless forums such as “Fantasy.”

It’s fair to ask if the same is happening with illusionists: If the end of an era is coming for a familiar type of magic show; the ones with big cabinets, leggy dancers and maybe even a sequined jacket with epaulets.

It could be we’re just in transition, playing musical chairs. Dirk Arthur, Steve Wyrick and Lance Burton — after he leaves the Monte Carlo on Labor Day — all could land in new venues and carry on as before. Rick Thomas might steer his ship back to more familiar crowd counts at the Sahara and Criss Angel might transform “Believe” into a title with positive consensus.

Burton clearly wasn’t feeling the love at the Monte Carlo, and his clout there seems to have dwindled with his crowd counts. Could be everyone simply saw his show twice over 14 years. No shame there; that’s a run most Broadway shows would envy.

It’s a little late to wonder what would happen if, about the seven-year mark, Burton had reinvested more into growing the show and keeping it on the front edge of innovation. It may not have mattered in the long run, because of David Blaine.

Andrew Mayne, publisher of the Web site iTricks (which broke the story of Burton’s departure before the local press), notes Blaine’s street theater shifted magic “to things that feel real. When a guy pushes a box onstage, it’s obviously a magic box.”

Mayne says “every one of my friends working cruise ships” — the bulk of working pros — have been asked to “get rid of the illusions” and scale down their acts as a cost-cutting measure. That levels the playing field for the more comedic acts, such as Mac King and Penn & Teller, who seem on stronger footing locally.

Blame the recession, sure. But it’s also fair to ask if the likes of Hans Klok and the Fercos Brothers weren’t already threatened by changing tastes, that the public is tired of dancers circling a box to “Carmina Burana” before the box flies open to reveal a tiger.

“Look at the evolution of Copperfield’s show,” Mayne says of the Strip’s most successful magician. “The dance sequences are gone.”

Also, by June, will be Criss Angel’s. Las Vegas always will have magicians. But they may be traveling lighter, and we might not miss what they leave behind.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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