Bill Hughes/Las Vegas News Bureau
Monday, Nov. 19, 2018 | 2 a.m.
One of the most recognizable headlining performers in the history of the Las Vegas Strip is coming out of retirement for a couple of shows this week.
Master magician Lance Burton still lives in Las Vegas but hasn’t done a proper Vegas show since ending his residency at the Monte Carlo (now Park MGM) in 2010 after more than 15,000 performances over the course of his 30-year-plus career. He returns to the stage at the Orleans Showroom Friday and Saturday and is bringing some magical friends along for the ride, with proceeds from the shows going to the Variety Children’s Charity of Southern Nevada.
Burton still loves to perform — especially for a great cause — but this weekend is not the start of something more. “About a year ago we did a show in Des Moines, Iowa, and in March we did a show in Louisville, Kentucky, and September in Albuquerque. I’ve been doing two or three shows a year and it’s been fun,” he says. “I like to tell people it’s like getting together with your buddies to go on a fishing trip, but we don’t fish. This is the right pace for me. It’s still fun and exciting.”
Burton, who also serves as the grand marshal of this year's opportunity Village Santa Run on December 1, spoke with me about these shows, the state of magic in Las Vegas and how this very publication helped connect him with the charity he’s so passionate about.
You’ve been working with the Variety Children’s Charity of Southern Nevada for quite a while now. How did you find out about the organization?
Did you know Joe Delaney? I met him in 1982 when I first came to town and he was a highly respected entertainment writer in Las Vegas and very involved in the community. I met him during one of the St. Jude’s Ranch fundraisers. In the early ’90s I was at the Hacienda and Joe called me and said he wanted to have lunch and told me about Variety and I have never heard of it, but how it had been around since the early 1900s and was started in Pennsylvania by some guys who were in show business. He told me how the one in Las Vegas does a lot for kids with special needs and said, ‘They want you to be the spokesman.’ It was founded here in the ’50s. I went out for a visit and met the kids and the staff and I’ve been involved ever since. I go do a show every year at the Christmas party. And these shows came about at the perfect time because I was talking to them about doing some other fundraisers around town. So a portion of the proceeds goes to Variety and it’s also great because Fielding West, who is performing, is now on the board of directors.
You’ve maintained your Vegas residence since you retired from performing on the Strip. Have you kept your eyes on the entertainment scene?
I haven’t kept up. After 30 years of going down to the Strip every day and fighting that traffic, now it’s the last place I want to go.
One of the biggest developments in magic is Criss Angel’s move from Luxor to Planet Hollywood. You helped present him with an award from the International Brotherhood of Magicians this year.
I’m very proud of Criss and what he has achieved. There’s no question he’s become the guy here in Las Vegas as far as big magic shows with national visibility. I first met Criss over 20 years ago when I had just opened at the Monte Carlo and we were both part of this documentary on magic for the Discovery Channel. I knew back then he was going to be a major force and I kept telling my friends to keep an eye on this guy. Years later he came out with the “Mindfreak” TV series and just took off like a rocket.
Is serving as a sort of ambassador of magic an important role for you now?
Yeah, I’m involved in the International Brotherhood of Magicians and I sponsor their youth group where we have a little two-day seminar every year for teen magicians. When you’re retired, you start looking at the future of your art form and you want to do everything you can to encourage the next generation. That’s one of my main things now. The kids who are getting into magic now are very enthusiastic and being around that is contagious and reminds you why you got into it.
And you’ll be getting back into it at the Orleans.
I’m really enjoying it. The show we’re doing is a lot different than the show I did all those years. It runs maybe an hour and 45 minutes and I do about half, some illusions with audience participation, some sleight-of-hand magic and some big illusions. People get to see a little bit of everything from my career. There’s a lot of comedy in the show, too.
Is that the main difference from your old show?
I think so. That was one of the comments I got frequently, that after the show people would say it was a lot funnier than they thought it would be. More traditional magic, you expect seriousness. But that comedy was always the hidden part of my show, unlike the commercials that show all the big magical moments to get people to come. It was always kind of my secret weapon, I guess, something people were not expecting, to laugh a lot.
Lance Burton and Friends will be presented at 8 p.m. November 23 and 24 at the Orleans Showroom (4500 W. Tropicana Ave., 702-365-7111) and more information can be found at orleanscasino.com.