Magic shows see changes, challenges

One magician emerges from a near-death experience at the hands of the critics and public. Another is playing hurt while another can take a dunking.

Cirque du Soleil finally has confirmed the ongoing overhaul of “Criss Angel: Believe” will be declared finished in October, in time to mark the second anniversary of the Luxor revue that opened to bad reviews and generally negative audience response.

Angel (on vacation until July 17) still performs to paying customers, so changes have been phased in gradually. But new illusions have arrived in the first half of the summer, with more to come. The dancers left the show last month, and gone is the story line that had the illusionist transplanted into a dream world via a near-death experience from an illusion gone amiss.

It sounds like Cirque stepped back and let Angel figure out how to soup up the magic.

“We have changed our point of view on how to do magic. It rests really on the magician,” top Cirque executive Gilles Ste-Croix noted last winter, when the company was opening “Viva Elvis.” …

Since we’re not supposed to know what happens inside those magic illusions, we’re not sure why feet get broken. But Lance Burton was sidelined for a long stretch last summer. This year it was Ariann Black visiting the orthopedic surgeon, just before she was to launch her “Secrets” revue at the Westin Casuarina.

The magician broke her foot in rehearsal May 3 and had surgery four days later to set it with a pin. She opened the show May 20, performing in specially made shoes. “It was still really painful,” she says.

That’s one reason “Secrets” has been so low-profile in the 200-seater used as much for corporate meetings as ticketed shows. While on the mend, Black has been refining the product with collaborators including director Johnny Thompson, the veteran magician who helped Criss Angel come up with dozens of hours of TV material in “Mindfreak.”

Black has opened shows for The Amazing Johnathan and met with reality-TV producers, but hasn’t headlined “Secrets” since an afternoon run at Fitzgeralds in 2003. She calls the new effort with three dancers “a full mix of magic, from close-up to parlor to four big illusions.” …

Happily, Steve Dacri did not break a foot or drown last Friday, when he was chained, padlocked and thrown into the Las Vegas Hilton swimming pool to retrieve two playing cards as part of a promotional card trick at a pool party.

This would be typical magic stuff except that Dacri had surgery for colon cancer at the beginning of the year, and still seemed a bit worse for wear when his “In Your Face” close-up show opened at the Hilton last March. …

Las Vegas follows the rest of the country in seeing the concert industry consolidated into the hands of two major corporate players. One is AEG Live, which runs the Colosseum at Caesars Palace and The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel. The other is Live Nation, which books concerts at the MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay arenas as well as The Pearl at the Palms, and owns the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay.

Earlier this year, the Justice Department approved Live Nation’s merger with Ticketmaster, creating a company so formidable — and potentially expensive for consumers — that smaller promoters have nicknamed it the Death Star.

Amazingly, Live Nation never had a Las Vegas office. Most dates on the Strip are booked from Phoenix, dating back to when Vegas was a concert “B market” booked by Evening Star, one of the regional promoters eventually swallowed by Live Nation.

That’s about to change. Last week, the company named Bob Cayne to the newly created title of president, Live Nation Concerts, Las Vegas. “There were all these different pieces of business that exist and not one person who was really responsible for it,” Cayne says.

It’s full circle for Cayne, who moved to town 10 years ago to head a local branch of SFX, which was bought by Clear Channel, which eventually became Live Nation.

But Clear Channel did not renew Cayne’s contract, so he broke away and hung out his own shingle with Global Entertainment, which will continue to book and promote shows including “Michael Flatley’s Lord of the Dance.” (This week last year, Cayne was busy closing a struggling “Lord” at the former Steve Wyrick theater.)

“I certainly have a directive to create new business,” Cayne says. “For the first time, I’d like to say there’s somebody in the area code that’s really thinking about the locals and what they’ll want to see.” …

Cheap Trick’s “Sgt. Pepper Live” tribute has been extended with 16 more shows running into September, beyond the 20 that began in June. It sounds like this production could be here a lot more if not for the fact that the band members have “a day job,” Trick singer Robin Zander noted recently. To be here year-round, “they’d have to pay us a lot of money, and even then I’m not sure something like that would happen.” …

Donny Moore, co-producer of “American Superstars,” says I left him out of Sunday’s column that mentioned Lance Burton’s 14-year run and claimed only three shows have more seniority.

“Superstars” at least ties with Burton, after 14 years at the Stratosphere. If you count earlier incarnations at two other properties, it has been around four years longer. But then you’d have to count Burton’s earlier run at the Hacienda and … oh forget it.

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

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