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Magic touch on command

Kentuckian Lance Burton says you’re not for real until you’ve performed at a family cookout


AP Photo/Lennox McLendon

Master magician Lance Burton performs one of his magical acts as he makes a woman float in air Tuesday night, July 9, 1996, inside the Lance Burton Theater at the new Monte Carlo Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. With an unprecedented 13-year contract that could reach nine figures, Lance Burton is a big believer in magic.

Lance Burton

Master magician Lance Burton greets Monte Carlo employees Jose Ruiyes, Gelder Garcia, Tommy Hanesana, Jorge Munoz and Fidel Ayala during their lunch break. Employees are hard at work making repairs after an exterior fire forced the property to temporarily close last Friday. Launch slideshow »


Who: Lance Burton

When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays

Where: Monte Carlo

Tickets: $66.50-$72.55; 730-7160

Beyond the Sun

Most nights magician Lance Burton performs in his multimillion-dollar theater at the Monte Carlo, surrounded by the bright lights of the Strip.

In September his stage was the back of a flatbed truck, his showroom a tent at his mother’s 100-acre family farm near Louisville.

“I try to get back to Kentucky a couple of times a year,” Burton says. “Last year my mom’s doctor, a good friend of the family for many years, wanted to invite his employees out to our family farm for a big cookout. I told mom I would do a little magic show for everybody.

“Now, I tell everyone if you have never done a magic show from the back of a flatbed, you haven’t done a magic show.”

The 49-year-old Louisville native has been doing magic in Las Vegas for 27 years — at the Tropicana, the old Hacienda (where Mandalay Bay is) and now at the Monte Carlo. He’s been there 13 years and just signed a six-year contract extension.

Burton recently returned to the stage after taking a two-month hiatus to nurse a broken foot — broken in three places when he tripped stepping off the stage to retrieve one of his birds that had flown into the audience. He still favors the foot, which has three steel pins permanently in place.

“It’s not nearly as much fun as everyone led me to believe it would be,” he says. “I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t go anywhere.”

It gave him time to think about his future. He is a long way from retirement, but he says he could easily move back to Kentucky, where he has an army of relatives.

“It’s a distinct possibility when it comes time to pass the torch to a younger generation,” he says. “I could very well move back. I wouldn’t mind at all. I love Las Vegas. It has been good to me. I love living here. But I have a big family in Kentucky.”

The gracious, soft-spoken Southerner has been a professional magician for 30 years. He and fellow Kentuckian Mac King — who has an afternoon magic comedy show at Harrah’s — got into the business about the same time.

“We’ve known each other since we were 14 years old,” Burton says. “We met at the Louisville Magic Club and hit it off right away.”

When they were 19 they began a three-year gig at Tombstone Junction, a Western-themed park in Cumberland, Ky., where they performed in the park’s saloon, which served hamburgers and hot dogs instead of alcohol and had a stage for entertainment. The two budding magicians did “The Mac and Lance Show” together from 1979 to ’81.

Burton moved to Vegas to start his career, and eventually lured King here.

“Not only is Mac hilarious, he’s one of the greatest magicians in the world,” Burton says.

Burton says he doesn’t do much outside of magic.

He does own Trip Sheet, a monthly trade magazine for the taxi cab industry. He bought it — just to keep it alive — a couple of years after the original owner, Dick Kawadler, died.

“When I was at the Hacienda I used to advertise in the magazine and I would invite cabdrivers in to see the show,” Burton says. “One thing that helped the show take off was getting the cabdrivers in and getting the word of mouth spread around.

“I didn’t want it to go away. It was a great marketing tool.”

Another non-magic interest is astronomy. His cast and crew bought him a computerized telescope for Christmas. “The technology now is wonderful for someone who isn’t an expert, who doesn’t know one star from another like me.”

Meanwhile, Burton is focused on his foot and his magic.

“I’m always working on new material, but I’ve learned over the years it’s best not to speak of (new illusions) in public till they come to fruition. I don’t want to jinx anything,” says the magician who has led a charmed life until he broke his foot.

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