For Las Vegas Strip illusionist, ‘innocent until proven guilty’ doesn’t hold in show business

Almost a year ago, I watched Jan Rouven pose for photos with a line of people who had just seen his show, as he did after every performance.

One couple was so enthusiastic, they were going to talk it up to everyone they knew back home.

Rouven’s manager and partner Frank Alfter smiled and said, “See? People like him.”

They don’t anymore.

Whatever becomes of the German magician in U.S. District Court, his career as a performer is almost certainly over, after he was charged this week with one count of receipt or distribution of child pornography.

“Innocent until proven guilty” still holds in court, as Rouven’s attorney Jess Marchese tried to remind everyone after he and his client denied the allegation in court.

But it doesn’t work in the marketplace with a charge so toxic.

The Tropicana wasted no time closing Rouven’s “Illusions” (alternately known as “The New Illusions”), despite the collateral damage of 12 dancers suddenly losing full- or part-time jobs.

Who could second-guess the hotel’s decision? Some of those same dancers were sensitive about the Review-Journal even using a show photo — one in which it was clear a dancer and Rouven were onstage — in connection with the story of his arrest.

The charge is so grave that Las Vegas magician Murray SawChuck, who also has performed at the Tropicana, thinks it will be a while before he or any magician can work at the hotel again.

“Here’s the problem. Jan Rouven wasn’t that famous. Most people don’t remember his name and they can’t even pronounce it properly,” SawChuck says. “The Tropicana is more famous than Jan Rouven. No matter who’s in there, people are going to go, ‘Is that the guy?’”

SawChuck posing with Rouven and fellow magician Tommy Wind is only one of many, many photos still on Rouven’s Facebook page. Dozens of them show Rouven with youngsters or families in front of the backdrop logo for his show.

There he is with Siegfried Fischbacher, one of the two most famous German magicians of all.

There he is in front of Mendoza Elementary School, where he visited to read to students for Nevada Reading Week.

Tapping a keg at Hofbrauhaus.

Appearing on “Valley View Live!” on KTNV-TV, Channel 13.

Schmoozing with hotel concierges.

All the things an almost-famous entertainer does to immerse and ingratiate himself in the tourist corridor and larger community to build a word-of-mouth following.

And the thing is? It was working.

On and offstage, Rouven was a likable presence. Alfter, who shares the home involved in the FBI’s investigation, was always pleasant to deal with as well, and that cannot be said of all managers of Las Vegas entertainers.

Rouven and Alfter seemed realistic about their roles on the Strip when they opened shop at the bygone Clarion, the lowest rung on the Las Vegas show ladder in 2011.

“(A)ll the people who didn’t know the business landed somehow at the Clarion, and those people expected to open the doors and have thousands of customers because they thought, ‘We are the biggest and the greatest,’ ” Rouven noted then, in my first interview with him.

But even my first review of his show called him “likable.” And just about every time I review a magic show — especially those which share familiar illusions — I write that its success depends on the personality of the magician and his bond with the audience.

The show gained enough traction to move to the Riviera, where I wrote that Rouven “often looks and sounds like Dana Carvey imitating Siegfried. But soon you’re on the side of this charmingly vulnerable fellow, who is what the ‘Saturday Night Live’ cartoon used to call ‘ambiguously gay’ in his stage presence.”

Rouven and Alfter seemed almost clairvoyant in leaving the Riviera for the Tropicana before the Riv’s surprise closure. And they claimed the Trop’s president Alex Yemenidjian, bought his own ticket to come scout the show incognito, based on its strong word of mouth.

But by the end of last summer, the FBI was running an undercover investigation of a file-sharing network dealing in child pornography. In January, FBI agents seized two computers and an external hard drive from Rouven’s home, and now allege the hard drive contained 3,235 videos and 105 images of child pornography, some showing children engaged in sex with men.

Marchese has said he will be able to prove the hard drive was not in Rouven’s possession. Those more familiar with the FBI than I am say the case progressing this far is itself a sign that it is a solid one. (Marchese on Friday was preparing a challenge to U.S. Magistrate Judge Peggy Leen’s order to hold Rouven without bail as a flight risk.)

People do seem genuinely shocked. SawChuck says his phone blew up during a business meeting with more than 70 text messages and calls.

One of the “Illusions” dancers, Nicki Taylor, says she was similarly left unemployed and unpaid in 2011, when magician Steve Wyrick’s show abruptly went belly up at the then Las Vegas Hilton.

But from Taylor and other cast members I get a sense of both practicality and futility. A job like this shouldn’t be their only one to begin with; for six nights a week, Taylor finished “Illusions” and then dashed to the Flamingo to be in “X Burlesque.”

And it’s not like there’s a lot of precedent for a better way to have handled this than the Tropicana’s knee-jerk reaction.

The dancers know like everyone else, that regardless of Rouven’s fate in court, all the goodwill he built up in four years has unraveled. And the word of mouth so crucial to any entertainer now goes in the other direction.

Read more from Mike Weatherford at Contact him at Follow him @Mikeweatherford

Entertainment Videos
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Taste of the Town: Henderson Booze District
Those who like to support local businesses and sample local products will find the best concentration in an unlikely spot: a Henderson industrial park.
Founder of theatre talks about a favorite play
Ann Marie Pereth, founder of A Public Fit Theatre Company, speaks to the Review-Journal about which play she would see every day if only given one option. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Avengers S.T.A.T.I.O.N interactive exhibit
The new exhibit features original and recreated props and plenty of interactive features. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Writer's Block and Lucy are open in Las Vegas
The Writer's Block and Lucy are open in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas ice cream shop offers everything in the kitchen sink
Have you ever wanted to eat an ice cream sundae out of a kitchen sink? Who hasn't, right? At Sloan's, located inside the Venetian, you can do just that. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Maxie’s in Las Vegas puts eggs Benedict in a box
Chef David Mangual at Maxie’s in The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas makes his eggs Benedict in a brioche “box” layered with spinach, bacon and tomatoes and topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Caviar Twinkie Served at Stripsteak in Las Vegas
Stripsteak Executive Pastry Chef Vivian Chang and Chef Gerald Chin create a novel savory food item that looks like a familiar sweet treat at the restaurant in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
NAB attendees battle to qualify for Fortnite event
NAB is sponsoring an online video game event with Epic Games’ Fortnite allowing attendees to qualify to go head to head with top players. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Arctic Shrimp Sandwich at Saga near Las Vegas
Chef Gert Kvalsund, a native of Norway, founded Saga Pastry + Sandwich in Henderson to give Scandinavians a taste of home. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar talk UNLVino
Guy Fieri and Sammy Hagar talk about the upcoming UNLVino vent. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Christie Brinkley at Smith & Wollensky
Christie Brinkley, in town for her run in “Chicago” at the Venetian Theatre, paid a visit to the Grand Canal Shoppes’ still-under-construction Smith Wollensky on Monday for a ceremonial first toast at the bar. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Two artists create a mural for peace in Las Vegas
2 artists create a mural for peace in Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Inside Kaos nightclub and dayclub
A look at new club at Palms.
CinemaCon Brings Theater Professionals To Caesars
CinemaCon is not just celebs, it's also a place where theater owners can browse the latest in seats, projectors and concessions. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas restaurants provide a taste of ballpark food
The Las Vegas Ballpark, home to the Las Vegas Aviators, will serve food from Giada De Laurentiis and a team of favorite local restaurants. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Taste of the Town: Bobby Flay Opens Shark at the Palms - VIDEO
Bobby Flay opens Shark at the Palms; his first high-end restaurant in 15 years.
Chef Marc Marrone at T-Mobile Arena
Chef Marc Marrone has opened a bao cart at T-Mobile Arena. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bellagio fountains celebrate 'Game of Thrones'
A medley of the theme for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and the song “Winter Is Here” from the show premiered at the Bellagio Fountains water show on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, March 31, 2019. The new number will run in rotation through April 13. The series premieres its eighth and final series on April 14. (Mick Akers/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegan Aunt Chippy talks about being on Jimmy Kimmel's show
Concetta Potenza, Aunt “Chippy” to Jimmy Kimmel, talks about her first time being featured on her nephew’s show. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The "Flight Unknown" At Bar Centro at Bazaar Meats Las Vegas Features 5 Innovative Cocktails
The "Flight Unknown" At Bar Centro At Bazaar Meats Las Vegas Features 5 Innovative Cocktails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cotton candy crowns pancakes in Las Vegas
At Maxie’s at The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas, executive chef David Mangual fills pancakes with fruit and cream cheese and piles on pastel cotton candy, which is melted in a stream of chocolate syrup. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Bananas Foster Pancakes go up in flames at The Stove near Las Vegas
Chef Antonio Nunez at The Stove in Henderson, near Las Vegas, flames the pancakes tableside for a fiery presentation. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
El Loco Rollercoaster at Circus Circus' Adventuredome
The El Loco rollercoaster opened at the Circus Circus' Adventuredome in February 2014. It features a 90-foot ascent, followed by a drop that produces a negative 1.5 "verticle G," a 180-degree turn, and reverse 240-degree roll that turns into an inverted drop. The coaster reaches a maximum speed of 45 mph and is the only indoor coaster of it's kind in the U.S., and is the second indoor El Loco coaster in the world, according to MGM Resorts.
Bartending flair competition at the Nightclub & Bar Show
Highlights from the ten contestants who competed for the Shake It Up Flair and Classic Competition at the Nightclub & Bar Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Justin Kingsley Hall shares details on his next gig
Chef Justin Kinglsey hall shares some details about the newArts District restaurant he's developing with Kim Owens. (Al Mancini/Las Vegs Review-Journal)
Film prompted Carrie Hogan to found 2 farmers markets in Las Vegas
Carrie Hogan founded Fresh 52 Farmers and Artisan Market in Las Vegas after realizing she had to do something about the influence of factory farms on the food supply. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Seafood dishes being made at Pasta Shop near Las Vegas
Executive chef Edwin Martinez incorporates fresh pasta into Lobster Salmon and Saffron Shrimp Sauté at Pasta Shop Ristorante & Art Gallery in Henderson, near Las Vegas. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Andrew Carmean will be the only local participant in upcoming demolition derby
Andrew Carmean, a demolition driver, will be the only local participant in upcoming derby at the Plaza Hotel. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Masso Osteria first anniversary in Las Vegas
Scott Conant was in town Tuesday to host a one-year anniversary party for his Red Rock Resort restaurant Masso Osteria.
Home Front Page Footer Listing