Thursday, March 17, 2016 | 7:30 p.m.
This might be the fastest vanishing act in the history of Strip entertainment.
Having been arrested by the FBI on child pornography charges, illusionist Jan Rouven and his show ‘New Illusions” has been shut down “permanently” at Tropicana Theater.
The cast was notified Wednesday afternoon in a memo given to stagehands, which read, “Effective immediately, Tropicana Las Vegas has permanently canceled the ‘New Illusions’ show featuring illusionist Jan Rouven. Any customer who may hold tickets to an upcoming performance may contact the box office for a full refund.”
The magician’s demise was sudden, at least publicly, but the blueprint was being drafted for months. Rouven had reportedly been under investigation since August by an FBI agent in the bureau’s Violent Crimes Against Children division. An affidavit filed Monday in U.S. District Court reveals that investigators concluded that Rouven (whose birth name is Jan Rouven Fuechtener) had used a computer at his Las Vegas home to obtain, view and share videos of men molesting children as young as 3 and 4 years old.
The investigating agent said more than 250 videos and images of children were found on the computer. The descriptions of the videos outlined in the affidavit, including one titled “blindbondage,” are simply disgusting to any civilized individual.
During an appearance Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Rouven pleaded not guilty to one charge of receipt or distribution of child pornography. He was ordered jailed pending trial, as the court has deemed he is a threat to the community and also a flight risk. Rouven hails from Cologne, Germany, and arrived in Las Vegas in July 2012 to perform his all-ages show at the Clarion (since imploded), then moved to the Riviera before signing a lease agreement to perform at Tropicana Theater in November 2014.
The Tropicana wasted little time is breaking clean of the 38-year-old magician. A statement issued Wednesday night by Tropicana General Manager Philippe Khouri reads:
“We are deeply disturbed by the very serious charges that have been filed against Mr. Rouven, who has been serving as an outside contractor to Tropicana Las Vegas. Following the news of his arrest, we took immediate steps to sever all ties to him and his production company. We are offering a full refund to any customer who may hold tickets to an upcoming performance and apologize in advance for any inconvenience. All future shows have been canceled.”
A cast member speaking under the condition of anonymity said, "We are very surprised by this, we didn't see the show closing, and to hear about his arrest is disconcerting. He was always nice to his co-workers." Seven members of the show's creative team, not counting Rouven, have lost their jobs.
There will be no further comment from the Tropicana on Rouven's departure, in keeping with the hotel’s policy of not speaking for the record about a continuing law-enforcement matter. But there will be some work to do to fill a sudden vacancy in a theater that, over the years, has been home to “Folies Bergere,” Gladys Knight, Wayne Newton, “Mamma Mia!” and, currently, “Raiding the Rock Vault.”
Rare is it that a major Strip production show shuts down so abruptly and permanently. The most significant incidence of the past 15 years has been the night Roy Horn was dragged offstage and nearly killed by the big cat Mantecore on Oct. 3, 2003, which forced Feld Entertainment to halt the Siegfried & Roy show at the Mirage; and the sudden death of Danny Gans in May 2009 while he was headlining at Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas.
In those cases, Steve Wynn began the hunt for a new headliner that ended with Garth Brooks’ residency beginning in the fall of 2009. Mirage redesigned the Siegfried & Roy theater for the Cirque du Soleil show “The Beatles Love,” which opened three years after Roy was injured.
The process to fill Tropicana Theater has already begun, with producers in Las Vegas eyeing the venue for shows already being staged and those in production. The most obvious players in this fill-the-theater competition are SPI Entertainment and Red Mercury, two of the busiest production companies in the city. Either of those companies could slide a show into that theater fairly seamlessly.
But Tropicana Theater is especially tricky, as it sits at a capacity — 1,100 — that is difficult to fill nightly even at a prominent hotel on the Strip. Rouven reportedly sold a respectable 200-250 tickets per show and did turn a profit (amid grumblings from entertainment sources who claim he issued tickets outside the box office to avoid paying the state’s live entertainment tax). But such a crowd seems sparse in that theater, which is cut to about half its capacity for “Raiding the Rock Vault.”
Also, any show or producer who wants to take on a nightly residency at the Trop needs to pay IATSE Local 720 (the Las Vegas stagehands’ union) rates. That agreement calls for the union to be paid for a total of 10 shows per week in the theater, minimum, and “Rock Vault” and Rouven split the fees. With the magic show now absent, someone — either the “Rock Vault” producers or the hotel — need to pick up that payment.
Such financial concerns are the reason many producers have balked at moving shows into the Tropicana.
The theory that a show or individual with strong name recognition could fill that theater is undercut by the poor performance of “Mamma Mia!,” which survived for six relatively strong years at Mandalay Bay but closed inside of three months at the Trop in 2014. There is an underlying feeling that the Tropicana property itself is in a tough spot, not geographically (it sits on the car- and pedestrian-flooded corner of the Strip and Trop), but competitively.
The Trop lacks a cross-promotional partnership with such Las Vegas resort companies as MGM Resorts, which otherwise dominates the neighborhood with Excalibur, Mandalay Bay, Luxor, New York-New York and MGM Grand; and Caesars Entertainment.
The Trop’s new owner, Penn National Gaming, has given some hope with its experience in operating resorts across the country (and also M Resort to the south), but the Rouven incident has hardly helped the new operators gain traction.
Importantly, the room itself was fully renovated just six years ago and is top-notch. SPI Entertainment CEO Adam Steck has long been impressed by the room’s sound and comfort, and says, “I have two productions right now that would work in there.”
But just how much of a tarnish Rouven has left on that venue is unclear. One Las Vegas performer says it is unlikely the hotel would want any magician in that room for about five years, at least, for the unsettling connection to “New Illusions.”
But as another individual who is well-versed in Las Vegas entertainment curtly noted, “I don’t see any lingering problem. Outside Las Vegas, nobody knew who he was.”
Tropicana Las Vegas sits on the south-east corner of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard, an intersection which has the most adjacent hotel rooms in the world, also making it one of the most busy. The hotel has 1,658 rooms, three restaurants, a 62,011-square foot casino and a spa.