Magician Xavier Mortimer goes from tiny French town to Las Vegas Strip

Updated June 19, 2017 - 9:57 am

There were more cows than people in the tiny French village where Xavier Mortimer grew up. Yet he “escaped” and under the most unlikely of circumstances landed a gig with Cirque du Soleil, which brought him here for the Michael Jackson show at Mandalay Bay. But, he wanted to fulfill a dream he’d had since he was a pre-teen so he “escaped” a second time and wound up as the first solo Cirque troupe entertainer to get his own magic show on the Strip. Xavier, who has just celebrated his first six-month contract at Planet Hollywood has been signed to a second half-year extension. He also can be seen on “America’s Got Talent” and “Masters of Illusion.”

His illusions and talents defy simple explanation and in a sense — it is genius magic — because Xavier has everything out in the open without resorting to “big boxes” and other hidden secrets. It’s a clever unique combination of the comedy of Charlie Chaplin, the moves of Michael Jackson and the imaginative fantasies of Mary Poppins.

Give Xavier a broom, a harmonica, a floating hand and shadow lights and he can create wonder, drama and bring characters to life.

“It’s a mashup with a universal kind of comedy,” he explained. “Welcome to my dream world, and I take the audience right inside it. I even composed the majority of the music. This is me at my best.”

His 70-minute performance — directed by fellow Frenchman and European TV celebrity Alex Goude – is a love-struck poem that unfolds through more than 14 acts, each packed with magical illusions and conjuring trickery — over 100 in all! It’s a form of magic completely different from Criss Angel or David Copperfield. By the time his one-year anniversary rolls around, Xavier said he’s created a new act involving live butterflies that will defy expectations.

“My magical dream is the key that unlocks the door to a hidden world of magic,” he said.

I sat happily mesmerized through his production earlier this week, and afterward, we talked about his journey when he packed his suitcase at a young age to travel the world creating shows that blended magic with music, comedy and circus acts. He won medals in Italy and France and a Top Five spot on “France’s Got Talent” – hosted by his pal, Alex, — while performing in more than 30 countries across the globe. It all brought Xavier to the attention of Cirque’s talent scouts and he was invited to become one of the four characters that told the “Michael Jackson One” story at Mandalay Bay.

Q: You’ve been here in Vegas with Cirque, but in a sense, your own magic show is all new. So how long have you been a magician? How long have you been preparing for this?

A: Almost all my life. I started when I was young. Of course, I didn’t expect to be a professional one day, but it was my passion. The dream was magic, but it was this kind of magic that is a little bit different and more whimsical and then fantastic — kind of a fantasy. So, yes, I’m close to the Cirque world, but, yes, tThat’s why I think I got along with Cirque du Soleil because I have the same approach to magic that they have.

This is magical — a world of magic. My world of magic. It’s how I see things. There are tricks, of course. There are mind reading and apparition, vanishing — all those things you would expect. But there’s a mirror that is talking to me, and that’s the magical part of it.

Q: You have 14 acts but there are many pieces of magic in each one of the acts, right?

A: Yes. So, it’s not like just one trick. I’m telling something, so it goes from the beginning. A little situation develops and the trick, the finale, the climax, is made with a big trick. For example, when I split with my shadows, when I do the jump rope, it is many little elements that go and strengthen the situation that I want to describe in my act.

Q: So no “big box” magic. This is whimsical, a dreamlike state, a fantasy? Was it a gamble to do this kind of magic in a city that is known only for “big box” magic?

A: I’ve been very influenced by Doug Henning. When other people say that my magic is very much like Doug Henning, it’s very whimsical and dreamlike, and that’s what people say about it … So, that’s completely true. It was a crazy, crazy project. Honestly, I didn’t know I would succeed. I had no idea I would one day be performing in Las Vegas, and when we opened the show, it was so different. Maybe we’re going to stay a month or two and see how we do or close.

It was a very crowded field here in 2016 because almost all of the 25 new shows failed. But apparently, the audience likes it, and we got the good reviews. And we have people in the room, so we continue doing that until … The good thing is that it’s so crazy that it works, that there’s something that can be built with that. I’m going to work hard and make it even more interesting and bigger in the future.

Las Vegas is very much a big box magic town, and I’m used to performing in Europe where I developed my own world. I went to see every show in Las Vegas and it taught me to understand (some things): You have to be more efficient. You must deliver the trick quickly and at a fast pace. Don’t tell too much of story, just go and do the tricks. We kept my identity though, otherwise, it would just be all the boxes from Murphy’s Magic or any store and then just putting together a show. But this is working. There’s an audience for that, so I’m going to continue working and working hard to develop that.

Q: Did people ever tell you that your magic wouldn’t work in Vegas? That you have to be more like Copperfield and chop yourself in half?

A: No. Everyone around me was supportive, and I might have been the one that was asking questions. People supported me a lot, and I’m glad. That’s why it’s here. By myself, I would never have done anything.

Q: There are a couple of big box illusions in your show despite the tiny stage. You rise into the ceiling. You spin around 360 degrees. Half of your body vanishes on a table.

A: It’s a little different than big box magic. I’m not using boxes. I’m using elements that you can see in your life, and that’s my goal. There’s no box. There’s a jump rope or an island table. It’s always illusions here, you know. It’s just a disguise. It’s something to relate to the audience, and that’s why I’m not a big box magician. Even if I want to create big illusions, I don’t like to put something in a box …. I just want to create something that makes sense. Like this island table is a principal that I’ve used for many, many, many years. I just change it when I want a table. It makes more sense because I can tell a story from my own viewpoint even if I am being reduced to half-a-person.

Q: Do you love performing magic?

A: I’ve always been doing that. I’m from a very small village in the South of France, and I didn’t expect to ever be a magician, like a professional magician. But I did it, and I did it and I did it. And, like, it went just naturally. Swimmingly, like you say. Things went. Contracts and contracts — and then Cirque de Soleil, and then here. That’s amazing. It’s amazing. And now “America’s Got Talent” and “Masters of Illusion.” I’m going to show some bits and pieces of the show on television, so people will get to know a little bit more of my work, and, hopefully, come and see the show. I’m going to introduce a new act into Magical Dream — it’s about flying things and butterflies. I found I could work with one butterfly in the cymbals I crash. This one is much more whimsical. It’s more of a game. It’s a fantasy of a girl reading a newspaper and playing with it.

That’s why people say it’s a marriage of Charlie Chaplin and Mary Poppins. I think it’s very accurate. I studied physical comedy in London and Paris, and the magic is based on this character like Charlie Chaplin, who does crazy things and things develop around him, so that’s Mary Poppins.

Q: In your show, you say you started magic when you were 8 years old and had a schoolboy crush on a little girl. Is that true?

A: Shhsh. That’s the story. I made up the story, but you know, there’s something true in every story. I obviously want to do magic because I want to impress these little girls around me when a kid. So, yes and no. But the story is nice to say. Hey, that’s what every little boy wished to do when you are here — and you wish to fly and show everybody that you can fly. Yeah. That’s what I wanted to be when I was a kid.

Q: What are the odds of a Frenchman, who speaks a little English, getting out of a tiny village in the South of France and finding fame on the Las Vegas Strip? What are those odd?

A: I’ll have to calculate. It would be a very small number. That’s incredible. You know I think there are two things that got me out of there. First, it’s passion, and No. 2, it’s a love of supporting people. There were only 100 people who lived in this village. There were more cows than people. I’ve become the talk of the town. Many people talk about it and say, ‘Oh yeah, you know he’s the guy. He’s the son of this guy, you know.’ I didn’t expect to be that. I was just this little boy from this little town and to show that everything’s possible finally.

Q: We use the word ‘escape,’ not for magic reasons, but to escape small town life. Was magic and Cirque the ticket out of the tiny village?

A: Yes. It (was) my escape from the world from the beginning. I escaped in my free time, and I perform(ed) magic. I built my tricks. I rehearsed my juggling and I worked on my music. And this escape made me escape from this village. In the “Michael Jackson One” show — it was very interesting. I brought a few pieces of magic, and they asked me to be one of the four main characters — two girls and two boys, who are running around and like sneaking into the world of Michael Jackson and stealing the glove. So, I was the one stealing the glove and stealing this big giant vortex that leads into the world of Michael Jackson. I asked if they can use some magic tricks, and they were like, ‘OK, then show us what you do, what you have.’

I chose the object of Michael Jackson, like the glove, the microphone, and like the jacket to do magic with, and the suitcase, of course. Cirque’s people had seen me a long, long time ago in the Avignon French festival. I was pursuing my shuttle-to-shuttle orchestra, trying to establish my name but they said I would have to leave France. They asked me if I wanted to come to Las Vegas. It was that moment — the best decision that I’ve made in my life — is to come here.

It’s been a fantastic experience. I love Cirque de Soleil. I love the company. I learned a lot, and obviously, it lead to this show. I signed for six months thought then I’d go back to France – but I never went back.

It’s all been a gamble but, hopefully, we will build the show and the TV is going to develop my name so we can maybe go into a bigger showroom later.

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