Posts Tagged ‘magic’

Review: Penn & Teller’s new 2021 Las Vegas show at the Rio

October 12th, 2021


I’m spending this week in Las Vegas — I’ll get to exactly why I chose to visit Las Vegas later on, but this is my first trip of any kind in over two years. (Yes, I know there’s still a pandemic going on but I’m vaccinated and Las Vegas has a perfectly reasonable mask requirement that I’m happy to follow.)

The last time I was in Vegas I got to see The Blue Man Group, which was a bucket list show for me. This time I wanted to cross another show off the bucket list: Penn & Teller.

I probably don’t need to introduce Penn & Teller as they’re arguably the most famous comedy magic duo of our time. Penn Jillette is the tall loud guy who’s the carnival barker of the two, and Raymond Teller is the smaller guy who does like 90% of the actual magic tricks. The pair have performed together since the mid 1970’s and there’s a good chance you’ve seen them on TV, either on a talk show or on their long running Fool Us show.

Oh and if you’ve somehow never seen their spin on the old cups and balls trick, go watch it now!

Though Penn & Teller have mixed up their Vegas act over the years, they had the entire pandemic to come up with new material, which Penn claims is a huge relief because they were out of tricks to perform on Fool Us.

While everyone found their way to their seats in the Rio’s theater, the show’s pianist was joined by Penn on an upright bass. They went through some classic jazz tunes before Penn had to leave and prepare for the opening act. 

And that was the first joke: the opening act involved Penn playing the same upright bass as the pianist played on a different piano, while Teller struggled to play a prop saxophone that seemingly only existed to “charm” a piece of tissue paper as it floated around the stage, fell on the floor, came back up, and even landed on Teller’s head after he fashioned it into a hat.

That’s just a small taste of what the new version of their show had to offer. There was only one trick in the entire set that I’ve seen them do before (a double misdirection involving a gorilla costume) though a more hardcore Penn & Teller fan than I might have seen versions of some other tricks before.

There was a trick that involved “gambling” with the entire audience participating where somehow I was one of the last five or so people standing until the final round. When Penn pointed out the prize was going to be extremely cumbersome to take home I honestly felt a sense of relief at not being the winner.

For those who remember seeing Penn & Teller decades ago I should point out that their act isn’t as physically demanding as it once was. This can’t be a big surprise considering their ages, particularly Teller who had his 70th birthday a couple years ago.

My recommendation: If you like Penn & Teller’s style of comedy magic this is a solid ~90 minute live show with plenty of new tricks. I had a great time, but if I had one gripe it’s that advance tickets are sold through Ticketmaster and as such come with Ticketmaster’s exorbitant fees.

Review: The Illusionists Experience in Reno

May 4th, 2019


Last night I went to see The Illusionists Experience, a magic show with a residency for the next few months in Reno’s Eldorado.

The name is a little confusing, I think they just tacked on “Experience” as a way to differentiate it from their traveling sister show which is simply known as “The Illusionists.” Unlike the traveling show, the Experience has a fixed set of illusionists. They are, in order of left-to-right in the above photo:

  • Valentin, The Showman
  • David Williamson, The Trickster (and host)
  • Chris Cox, The Mentalist
  • Hyun Joon Kim, The Maniupulator
  • Krendl, The Escapist

The first trick is one you’ll have to perform on your own: finding the theater inside the enormous Eldorado casino floor. By the time I found it my eyes were watering from all the cigarette smoke.

In the theater lobby I picked up my will-call ticket and was directed to wait in one of the two lines. I bought the second most expensive ticket, which got me pretty close to the stage in the second row of seats. The priciest tickets get you a little table in the very front.

As we waited for people to file in, David invited us to come up to the bar at the front of the stage, grab a drink (champagne was free, at least with my ticket), fill out a small form for Chris Cox’s act and drop it in a box, and watch David’s up-close card tricks at the bar.

If you’re sitting in the back it’s not the end of the world though, they have crews walking around with live cameras projected on a large screen for the close-up acts. As far as I could tell this was legitimate, they weren’t displaying doctored footage.

The show begins with the bar transforming into part of the stage. David acts as a host, introducing the other illusionists and performing his own tricks while set pieces were being rolled out behind the curtain. He’s more of a comedian than a magician though, he claimed he learned all his tricks from magic books he checked out at the library. What he does have going for him is the ability to work the crowd, and in his final performance of the evening he invited a few kids up on stage, all of whom seemed genuinely fooled or at least very confused.

Hyun Joon Kim does card tricks that seem impossible like cards suddenly changing colors and pulling cards seemingly out of thin air. If you’ve ever watched Penn & Teller’s Fool Us, you’ve certainly seen other magicians do similar card tricks. Might not fool Penn & Teller, but it definitely looks magical to those of us who don’t know the secrets.

Chris’s mentalist routines were okay, but like most of these types of magic tricks he obviously had an assistant feeding him information and Googled a few members of the audience to “read” their minds. Although I don’t think he really fooled anyone, what Chris does have going for him is an energetic stage presence and a self-deprecating sense of humor.

Krendl’s escapist routine culminated in a Houdini-style escape from a locked tank of water while handcuffed — and holding his breath the entire time. This was easily the most impressive act, though I think it would have benefited from a slower pace to establish the stakes such as what’s really required of him to escape.

One trick involved an “impossible box” illusion where one of the two beautiful female assistants was locked in a box, an enormous rectangular rod was slid through the center of the box, and then… well I don’t want to spoil this one, but it’s obvious the box is much roomier than it appears.

It’s worth acknowledging the elephant in the room: all the illusionists at this show are male, and the two assistants are female. Seems like they could have at least found one female illusionists to balance this out a little better, though David deserves credit for making jokes at the expense of the gender imbalance.

My recommendation: Chances are you’ve seen many of the routines performed during this show before, if not some of the performers themselves. That said it’s one thing to see these illusions on TV and another to see them live; for that reason alone it’s worth considering. On the other hand it’s pretty expensive for a 90 minute show, and you’ll pay extra for the good seats. I think almost anyone would be entertained though the ideal audience is those who haven’t seen big scale live magic shows before and don’t mind the steep ticket price.