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January 22, 2019

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Shows by Murray Sawchuck and Rich Little debut tonight in Las Vegas

Murray Sawchuck

Murray Sawchuck

Murray Sawchuck.

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Magician and Illusionist Murray Sawchuck

Magician and illusionist Murray Sawchuck. Launch slideshow »
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Jeff Tracta, Frank Marino and Murray Sawchuck attend Liza Minnelli's meet-and-greet at the Las Vegas Hilton on Oct. 7, 2011.

Murray Sawchuck

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Steve Rossi and Rich Little at X Burlesque's fourth anniversary at the Flamingo on April 7, 2011.

Rich Little

Two one-man shows debut tonight in Las Vegas. Magician and “America’s Got Talent” semifinalist Murray Sawchuck will attempt the impossible as his illusions show begins its summer run at the Tropicana’s Laugh Factory when the audience surrounds him and will be just 2 feet away from the tricks.

Legendary comedy impressionist Rich Little returns to the Las Vegas stage with a pre-Broadway run of his “Jimmy Stewart & Friends” featuring more than 25 celebrity icon voices at the LVH (Las Vegas Hotel, formerly Las Vegas Hilton).

I asked Murray, who began the art with a Siegfried & Roy magic kit when he was 7, how he can possibly perform magic inside a circle of people surrounding him: “It’s not the easiest -- in fact, it’s very difficult. Performing on a stage with the entire audience in front of you is best, obviously, but it’s like a 3-D movie where people basically want to be in the show,” he told me.

“So I took on the challenge of going the extra mile to build illusions and tricks that I can perform surrounded. As a magician, it is very, very hard to do that. It’s certainly not the easiest thing to do, but it’s different enough on the Strip to be worth going the extra mile. The audience is so close, they could actually lean forward and touch the trick while I’m performing, but I’d prefer they didn’t do that!”

Murray, who has won 24 international magic awards including “World Champion,” said it was experiences from 20 years of touring that gave him the idea to go beyond just close up and get inside a “Circle of Magic” so close to the audience they’d feel they were making the magic.

“I am very fortunate to have performed in various locations around the world that have created some very unique challenges for a magician. I’ve performed in open malls in the middle of Mexico, or China where there were four levels of audiences around -- in Korea, where they had 17 levels, and you can see straight down to my stage down the middle.

“I would perform in Japan to do one big trick dead center in the middle, so I had to learn to construct these illusions so they can be seen from above and all around. In a mall or public forum, you don’t have any control of the lighting, so you have to construct things that are not only safe but out in the open. You can’t hang things from wires and hide things in the shadows.

“So the new show on the Strip came out of those situations, challenges and thoughts. But it also has become the most difficult I’ve ever attempted. Where do you hide things? Imagine it is almost like when you are driving a car. Every car has a blind spot. No matter what car you are driving, there’s a blind spot. In magic, we usually use the blind spot to fool the audience -- performing in the round, basically there is always someone in your blind spot.

“I literally had to go to every seat in the theater to watch the stage to find the blind-spot solution. We did it with video cameras, one in each corner so it would be the eyes of the audience and with a wide lens. It’s not a massive theater like the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, so we actually built a stage that is an 8-foot thrust with a catwalk that goes out and forms the tear drop, which is actually the complete circle that puts us right in the middle of the room. So, we can roll things right off from the stage into the middle of the room surrounded by 300 people. It’s a great seat no matter where you are, and the magic is right in front of you and beside you.”

He admits that it’s a problem for his signature trick, the “disappearing locomotive.” “I don’t know if I can even produce the cowcatcher on the train in that room, or engineer for that matter,” he laughed. “But I think one of the illusions that will be the strongest in the show is when I put a girl in a rectangular box .You see her hands at all times, and at the last moment one wall is squished right against the other wall just 3 inches thick. This is literally done 2 feet away from some people’s faces. It doesn’t get any closer than that. You know if I am squishing a girl against the wall, she is in there somewhere.

“I pray as close as they get, they still won’t be able to figure it out. That’s the plan. That’s job security! It really is like the Magic Castle come to life -- a combination of the Magic Castle and the intimacy of the Magic Circus show once at Caesars Palace being in the round. Obviously, the whole 70-minute show isn’t in the round, but there are two illusions in the round and a lot of other numbers. It’s a nice element, totally different from anything else on the Strip because I think people like to be involved when they come to Vegas. They like meeting people, being close to stars, seeing them up close. I think it just extends that element of being touchable and viable to people. It’s a nice twist, something completely different.”

Murray’s new run is seven nights a week through the end of May and then six nights weekly through the end of the summer. “It’s good to work every night and return to the Strip. Last time I was on the Strip with my full show was 2002 at the Frontier. I’ve guest-starred in spots every 4 to 6 months at ‘Crazy Horse Paris,’ Vegas Magic Theater, Nathan Burton’s show, but I was really picky and meticulous coming back to a Vegas residency. I’ve been touring and doing TV shows like ‘Pawn Stars’ and ‘Jadagrace’ nonstop, but you put it all on the line here and are judged every night. I certainly didn’t make it easy on myself for this outing,” he concluded.

Murray’s gala opening follows Laugh Factory’s premiere celebration, and that’s when he’ll have his famous train and long railroad tracks on the red carpet.


World-renowned impressionist and Las Vegas resident Rich Little performed his first celebrity impression as a youngster -- Jimmy Stewart. Tonight, the 73-year-old “Man of a Thousand Voices” launches his one-man show “Jimmy Stewart & Friends” as a pre-Broadway run at the LVH.

“He became a dear friend and a lifelong inspiration of mine,” Rich said. “He never had any idea how he affected my life, but I did, and now you will, too.”

Rich impersonates more than 25 celebrity icon voices, including Cary Grant, George Burns, Ronald Reagan, Katharine Hepburn and John Wayne, in the adventure through the life of the acclaimed Stewart.

“Rich has delighted audiences around the world for decades,” said Rick White,

VP of entertainment at LVH. “It’s an honor to welcome a true show business institution to the LVH. He’s a great addition to our lineup.”

Rich performs Saturdays through Wednesdays at the hotel’s Shimmer Cabaret at 8:30 p.m.; a VIP package permits fans to a meet-and-greet after the show.

Meantime, new shows on and off the Strip are putting life back into our showbiz scene: On Tuesday, the Broadway Theater debuts at New York-New York with “Spirit of the Dance” and guest stars Dublin’s Irish Tenors, and we’ll have a preview, so please check back Tuesday.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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