Rick Thomas

Q: What if Las Vegas magicians ran Wall Street?

A: "I know what’s coming, Mr. Funny Reviewer Hack: ‘Your money wouldn’t disappear as fast.’ "

Nope. Watching Rick Thomas at work at the Sahara, words like "stability" and "dependable" came to mind.

Then I started thinking of Thomas among his peers. Who better to sit on your mutual fund’s board than Thomas, Lance Burton, Nathan Burton and — if a couple of seats remain after you lower the bar for charisma — Dirk Arthur and Steve Wyrick?

David Copperfield, though hardly a risk-taker himself these days, still stands apart for originality and the fact that he’s not quite a full-timer on the Strip. Criss Angel? He’s the AIG of magic: betting big and, so far, in need of a bailout.

But the rest of the pack all keep the doors open with varying success in hard times. And they deliver all you could expect of your portfolio this year: a modest return on investment, safe and predictable.

Thomas got squeezed out of town two years ago, after the Stardust closed and his move to The Orleans — a dubious stretch for tourist pedestrians from the get-go — ended amid backstage union drama.

Now he’s back at the Sahara, in a theater that looks and sounds good after being upgraded for the short-lived "Raw Talent Live." Thomas picks up where he left off, as though he’d never missed a day since he first showed up on the Strip in 1997.

The magic is versatile but standard. If anything has changed, it’s more in attitude. Thomas seems more at ease in his own personality, marching around barking mock-indignant orders at people: "Go back and think about what you just did!"

And it’s fun to watch this 6-foot-4 guy try to re-create the ballroom dance steps of his youth, even if he huffs and puffs more than he used to.

All this is vital, since many of Thomas’ illusions are the type of "cabinet tricks" exposed by TV’s "Masked Magician," Val Valentino.

You still gasp at the speed in which assistant Michelle Diterlizzi vanishes and a huge white tiger takes her place. It’s a good 20 minutes before the tiger trick, a sign that Thomas depends less on the "oohs" and "aahs" of showing animals than Arthur at the Tropicana.

When Thomas pulls a boy to the stage to help levitate one of his female assistants, the actual illusion is underwhelming (that chair seems unusually rigid). But it’s all in the getting there, with Thomas knowing how to play the wild card of a youngster thrust into the spotlight.

With a Dudley Do-Right chin and Mormon upbringing, Thomas also is the perfect guy to:

• Remind us to "say better things about people."

• Adopt homeless pets.

• Dedicate his linking rings work to his mom, saying "without (her) I would not be here tonight," and not meaning that as a laugh line.

Repeat customers aren’t in for any big surprises, but a few old favorites stand out as distinctive: shrinking a tiger into a kitty, a Fred Astaire dance with a microphone stand and the climactic levitation, in which Thomas takes flight along with dancer Koree Kurkowski.

Two years ago, there was talk of the Sahara’s new ownership group, headed by 34-year-old Sam Nazarian, bringing his Hollywood style and celebrity nightclub background to the aged property. Big plans for a makeover are on hold, and for now it’s Thomas and dollar hot dogs right outside the showroom door.

And somehow, I can’t help but think Nazarian sleeps better than if it were Criss Angel inside.

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

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