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Challenge for Mat Franco is to really ‘reinvent’

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Brad Cohen

Mat Franco

Updated Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2015 | 10:38 a.m.

It’s time for a word about Mat Franco.

Three words, actually.

“Magic Reinvented Nightly.”

That’s the tagline for Franco’s new show at the recently overhauled Linq Showroom (and Franco and “Divas Las Vegas” headliner Frank Marino are the recipients of the new digs). The most recent champion of “America’s Got Talent,” the 27-year-old Franco celebrated his grand opening Friday night. The room was packed with media, assorted VIPs and even a few of Franco’s fellow Las Vegas magicians.

In that performance, Franco showed that he has expertly mastered the “magic” and “nightly” ends of that catchphrase.

“Reinvented” is where you stop. Big word. As you enter a show on the Las Vegas Strip in which the claim is to “reinvent” magic, you wonder how that will be executed when not so far down the street the visage of magic superstar David Copperfield graces MGM Grand. And Copperfield is but one of a host of magicians performing in Las Vegas with such frequency and proficiency that it seems impossible to effectively reinvent what is already onstage.

Naturally, magicians commonly accuse each other of copping each other’s routines, whether a deserved charge or not, and even broaching the topic is to open up a can of worms while sliding down a slippery slope. But even given the proprietary nature of professional magicians, Franco’s act is largely familiar. We have seen a lot of this show elsewhere, which is fine — unless you are claiming to advance the craft to the point of reinvention.

Franco strikes me more as a classically trained performer in the mold of a Lance Burton — a master magician for the millennial generation. Adopting that stage personality would make such acts as the multiplying wine bottles, long a favorite in Burton’s shows at the Monte Carlo, more palatable.

There is a lot to recognize in the show. A routine in which Franco passes cards from one audience member to another reminds of an established trick in Mac King’s show at Harrah’s (though King wears his “Cloak of Invisibility” during the routine). The audience member’s cell phone disappearing and reappearing elsewhere in the theater reminds of Penn & Teller’s use of a vanishing-and-resurfacing smart phone during each of their performances at the Rio (though in that routine, an iced fish is employed). Franco hides under a drape and slides his hands through open slits, only to suddenly appear in the audience, literally, in the blink of an eye. Criss Angel does that, too, nightly at Luxor.

All of these acts are slightly altered, but derivative nonetheless, like pulling a rabbit out of the bottom of a hat. Or sawing a woman in half length-wise. What we find in Franco’s show are interpretations of well-known tricks and illusions.

Otherwise, Franco’s show is obviously well-funded, and the expense of a video panel at the back of the showroom is evident throughout. In one of the show’s more impressive moments, Franco flips playing cards, seemingly out of thin air, skyward into that screen. The young magician’s home movies and clips of his appearances on “America’s Got Talent” are effectively broadcast from that video panel high above the stage.

Especially, Franco is a master at sleight-of-hand illusion and at the end of his show tells a story of what has transpired over the previous 90 minutes. He places a set of cards, presented to him randomly after being fired from a trio of cannons at the middle of the stage, as the tale of the night unfolds. This is the act that, by its very structure, changes night-to-night.

Sharp and telegenic, Franco should only grow as a stage personality. As I was walking out of Friday’s show, I thought of the time I’d spent with him during his rehearsals at the Rio’s Crown Theater. I was taken by his personality, passion and clear focus on what he wanted to put onstage. His close-up work is masterful, and I believe that he could be a star: A Strip newcomer who has the heart and soul of a classic magician.

Of course, all of that might not fit on a marquee, but it is accurate.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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