Sunday, March 26, 2006 | 7:01 a.m.
For years, Morgan Strebler has been angling to become a headlining magician on the Strip. Talk about picking a crowded field.
Morgan told me about his dream five years ago, when we first met. He was a handsome, scrub-faced young kid in blue jeans from Missouri. His magic portfolio included catching speeding bullets in his teeth and passing through a sheet of metal.
Cool stuff. His lovely wife, Mikala, was his assistant. He called me Mr. Gorman, which made me uncomfortable. But that's how nice he was.
At the time, he was handing out 12-minute promotional videos of his magic show that cost him $40,000 to produce. It showed things like his wife being pierced by a giant needle.
He was hustling as hard as he could but it's not easy getting the attention of booking agents and entertainment directors in this town. They tell me they sometimes have videos from 150 magicians piling up on their desks.
Morgan and I lost track of each other. I tracked him down last week and we met for lunch at PT's in Silverado Ranch. He still calls me Mr. Gorman, and I can't break him of it.
He told me that last year he performed in more than 450 90-minute shows in Seoul and London that attracted 1 million people. He has gigs lined up in Australia and New Zealand.
Because he and his wife live in town, the announcer can rightly introduce Morgan as "Direct from Las Vegas!" That impresses people.
And he looks the part, too. He has developed an edge. He's still a sweet kid but his hair is short and spiky and bleached banana-yellow. He wears chic clothes, a sterling silver necklace around his neck and round, silver rings in both ears. He's hot. He's been Vegasized.
He still loves big illusions that take up an entire stage, but now he's doing little stuff.
His signature trick these days is bending forks into funny shapes. He credits psycho-kinesis. He sells a DVD of himself on the Internet in which he explains the trick to other magicians. (It costs $19.95, and for another $5 he'll throw in a dozen forks. Maybe I'll buy the video and have some fun at our family reunion.)
At lunch, he had the waitress hold the fork as it melted before our eyes. That made her day.
He asked me to hold a quarter in my hand and, when I released it, it was bent. That was weird.
Morgan has performed this close-up magic at Caramels, a bar at Bellagio, at the V Bar at the Venetian and at Beacher's Madhouse, the over-the-top comedy joint at the Hard Rock.
"He's got good tricks, good presence and good looks," said Jeff Beacher. "He just hasn't had a good break yet."
And that's the rub: How do you get noticed in the crowded world of magic in Las Vegas?
"Agents have been very up-front with me," he said. "They asked me what I did that was unique, so I had to do some soul searching, and came up with my 'liquid metal' illusion. I created a whole act around it."
He performs the act at corporate functions and private parties, where word-of-mouth brings more business. He performed for 2,000 guests at a Neverland Ranch birthday party for Michael Jackson's father, Joe.
He wants to produce an hour-long video of his magic and hopes it will be picked up by network TV. ("Direct from Las Vegas!")
Since I saw him last, Morgan says he better commands the stage, has developed smoother transitions between tricks and better engages the audience. "And I'm no longer trying to emulate someone else," he said. "I've decided it's OK to be myself. So I'm more genuine."
But he's not quite ready for the Strip yet, and he knows it. He said he's taken to heart the advice he received from Rick Thomas, a wonderfully graceful magician. "He told me it's better to be bad somewhere else and hone my act before I try to sell it here," Morgan said.
So Morgan is still polishing his magic and isn't quite ready for prime time. But I think he's getting there.
I knew he wouldn't give up any of his secrets but I still wanted to know where he gets his forks.
"I get 'em in bulk. Fifty dozen cost me $75. They last me a couple of weeks."