Magicians are famous for rolling up the sleeves on their shirts to show there’s nothing hidden there. But for Jen Kramer, that’s both unnecessary and impossible as she walks onto the stage wearing a sleeveless evening gown.
The only woman among roughly 20 magicians appearing regularly in Las Vegas, Kramer, 27, has recognized since childhood the challenges of being a female in a male-dominated career. The obstacles first appeared when she was 10, when her uncle gave her a guide to performing card tricks.
“The book would say something like, ‘Reach into your trouser pocket, then take your top hat…’ and I would think, ‘Well, gosh, I don’t have a pocket,’” she recalled inside the Westgate Resort theater where she astonishes her audiences four nights a week.
As part of her act, she makes a visitor’s $100 bill vanish as if he had just lost it at a blackjack table. “Welcome to Vegas!” she exclaims to laughter.
Of course, the money later reappears using the slight-of-hand she honed as a child. The tricks are so well polished that, time and again, guests are left wondering, “How did she do that?”
With such a large number of magicians, including legends like David Copperfield and Penn & Teller, each must develop a unique style or risk getting lost in the crowd. The performers with longevity in entertainment-heavy Las Vegas have done exactly that.
“You stay away from magicians. Otherwise, you’re going to copy everybody,” said Xavier Mortimer, who celebrated his 1000th show at Bally’s in January 2020.
“There’s so many ways to do magic,” he said. “You have to find a way that is different.”
A native of France who made a reputation in Paris performing mime, Mortimer still incorporates mime and other talents that are particularly popular in Europe. His mastery is evident when he actually plays a clarinet, while spinning upside-down, with other musicians in his “shadow orchestra.” It’s a stunning bit of showmanship that has to be seen to be appreciated.
Later, Mortimer jumps rope while seemingly suspended in mid-air several feet above the stage. The only magician performing the act, he has rebuffed requests to license the trick.
“It’s whimsical. It’s absurd. And it’s for everybody,” Mortimer said of the show, which follows him through a fanciful dream.
While it’s relatively easy to amaze the average guest, there simply to be entertained, it’s really saying something when the theater is packed with fellow magicians who give accolades such as “amazing” and “brilliant.” That’s what happened on a Saturday night in January, when the Society of American Magicians – gathered in Vegas for their annual convention – showed up en masse to experience Mat Franco at The Linq.
Franco, who boasts an infectious smile, first performed in Vegas in 2003, when he was just 15, during the Society’s “Stars of Tomorrow” show. He has improved and expanded his repertoire since those early days, earning him first prize on the “America’s Got Talent” TV show in 2014.
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In one jaw-dropping act, Franco asks an audience member named Mitchell to sign his name on a $100 bill – yes, lots of people carry them in Vegas – before making it disappear. The bill astonishingly reappears inside the sealed flavor packet in a bag of ramen noodles, a bag randomly selected by Mitchell from among hundreds piled on the floor.
“I’ve been doing [magic] for over 25 years, but I still feel like a beginner in a lot of ways,” he said. “I feel like I’ll always be a student of magic because it’s cumulative.”
“I just want to create this good art and put it out there. And hopefully people can take something away from it,” he modestly added.
Among Vegas magicians, the “longevity in the same showroom” award goes to Mac King, who marked 20 years at Harrah’s early in 2020.
A self-described stand-up-comic-cum-magician, King said that, like many of the shows on the Las Vegas Strip, his isn’t what he called “language dependent,” meaning foreign visitors don’t have to be fluent in English to have a good time. And, as King’s show is in the afternoon, it is particularly popular with families.
“It’s not a kids’ show, but I certainly sell more tickets during spring break, the summer and holiday times,” he said.
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Vegas’ longest-performing magician, but with runs at several resorts, is also the most famous. David Copperfield first amazed Vegas audiences about 40 years ago.
With a face made famous through worldwide TV specials – in one, he made the Statue of Liberty disappear – Copperfield continues to deliver big spectacles.
In his current show at MGM Grand, eyes pop as he arrives out of nowhere astride a motorcycle. A bit later, it’s another vehicle – a mint-green, 1948 Lincoln convertible – that seemingly materializes from thin air while encircled by about a dozen, gaping guests from the packed audience.
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“I try to take an approach of ‘not the normal path that you expect,’” he said. That’s clear during the show’s climax, when a large UFO hovers beneath the showroom ceiling as a lost alien is beamed aboard.
At age 63, Copperfield is still capable of performing his “Live the Impossible” show as many as three times a night.
“I try to take half-an-hour naps between shows,” he revealed. “It’s amazing how half-hour naps get me through it.”
Despite performing magic professionally for more than 40 years, Copperfield can’t foresee retirement.
“I don’t know what that word means,” he said.