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“Steve Wyrick — Real Magic”

Timing is everything in show business, and the timing of this one could be better.

Steve Wyrick has opened the best show of his 10 years in Las Vegas. It better be, given the $35 million it took for the magician to build a custom theater and the competition headed his way.

Wyrick always has taken a "do it yourself" attitude to Las Vegas stardom. He doesn’t wait for people to hire him; he builds his own performance spaces. Delays in finishing the new one — his fourth since his downtown debut at the Lady Luck in 1997 — suggest he stretched his resources to the max to open the 500-seat theater and nightclub at the Desert Passage mall next to the Planet Hollywood Resort.

Cirque du Soleil plans to get into the magic business with rock-star illusionist Criss Angel in the summer of 2008. But Wyrick won’t have to wait that long for competition: Dutch magician Hans Klok will soon open right next door at Planet Hollywood.

Who knows how it will all shake out? It can at least be said that "Real Magic" is on the right track, even if Wyrick jumped on four years late. His theater offers a quality experience to which the big boys should pay more attention. The stage seems huge in proportion to the cozy seating space, allowing deft shifts from helicopters and giant death traps to card tricks out in the audience.

The balance becomes important when some of the close-up magic gets bigger reactions than the big stuff.

Despite all the rear screen projections, dancing girls and special effects, no one seems to buy it when Wyrick purports to walk through the spinning turbine of a 747, conveniently half covered with fabric. "Everyone wish me luck!" we hear his detached voice say from somewhere behind the thing.

For all the time and money spent on that one, the crowd at this particular show didn’t really seem wowed until Wyrick did a card shuffling trick with two audience members called to join him at a table onstage. (You’re forced to watch this one in big-screen video close-ups, because the camera operator stands right in front of the table, blocking the view of the live action for much of the audience.)

He also gets a strong reaction after venturing into the audience for a card trick long associated with veteran close-up magician Steve Dacri: A razor blade goes into a box with a deck of cards and appears to chew them up.

The second half seems to lock in better, offering both fresher illusions — including a cool one with a female assistant materializing in a tank of water — and a sense of unity for the whole thing. Wyrick long has been his own worst enemy by packaging the tricks with a generic personality. He echoes the casual approach of David Copperfield, but doesn’t offer any defining characteristics along the lines of Angel or the comedy magicians.

Instead, Wyrick synthesizes various styles of magic into a one-size-fits-all approach. The dividing line on this show may be how many other Las Vegas-style magic revues you have seen. This one’s a fine, comprehensive introduction — a bargain, even, at the half-price outlets — if you’re not burdened with the deja vu of, "Where have I seen the woman-coming-out-of-his-chest thing before?"

His stage banter is still a little cheesy, and the crowd should get free drinks if he says "I’m playin’ with you!" more than twice. But the patter now threads together with anecdotes about the magician’s family which build to the finale, a knockout punch that manages to combine childhood nostalgia and a Learjet.

To be more specific wouldn’t be fair, but let’s say the theatrical sequence is the most significant illusion in more ways than one. Beyond the "wow" factor, the audience walks out believing the entire show had a context and emotional dimension that really wasn’t there before that finale.

At least in this one sense, it’s better late than never.

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