Rick Thomas has been a staple of the Las Vegas magic scene for decades performing illusions on both the grand and small scale. At one time he followed the Siegfried & Roy animal train by utilizing tigers in his act but abandoned that route a few years ago to pursue a different direction with his magic. This direction lead him to a full time residency in Branson, Missouri, where he plays the Andy Williams Moon River Theatre and tours during the off-season, which is why he makes it to Harrah’s Laughlin for his current run, Wed-Sun, Feb 15-19.
Thomas’ honors include Magician of the Year by the Academy of Magical Arts and magic’s highest recognition Illusionist of the World by the World Magic Awards. He has also been featured on numerous national television specials including the NBC series “The World’s Greatest Magic,” “Masters of Illusion” on CW, as well as on MTV, FOX, TLC, Animal Planet, the History Channel. He also had his own special on ABC. In a most unique move, he created illusions for the Carolina Ballet’s production of “The Nutcracker”.
Thomas cites Liberace and Freddy Mercury of Queen as a couple of influences when putting together his act. You would expect a magician to name someone like David Copperfield in that role, but what Thomas saw in the pianist and singer was magic of a different kind. It was the magic of entertaining and mesmerizing a crowd through style and technique. It was beyond pulling a rabbit out of a hat or making something disappear.
Well, actually something did disappear. He learned that inhibitions and fears could disappear through the artistry of a skilled entertainer. So that is what he set out to become—an artist who just happens to be a magician.
His grand illusions are innovative, slick creations of his own designs, making him one of those guys other magicians regularly “borrow” from and emulate. We caught up with Rick Thomas via a phone interview a couple of weeks ago and here’s his take on…
Thomas: No matter what I do, or how many illusions I perform, the one effect that people continue to talk about all the time is my watch effect. I borrow a watch from a man and wife in the audience and things go tremendously wrong.
It’s funny, and at the end, it’s stunning. So you have the best of two worlds. You’ve got something that’s comical and people have no idea where you’re going with it, and then at the last five seconds, it’s, “oh, my goodness, wow!” I can’t take it out of the show.
New element to the show…
Thomas: I have a new piece that I’m doing and it’s a mental effect. It’s pure entertainment. I can’t tell you who’s going to win the next lottery, or how our country’s going to turn out, but I can keep you entertained on stage. I’m really looking forward to performing this new piece.
Magicians revealing secrets…
Thomas: The reason guys who say are exposing illusions is because they’re not good as magicians or performers. When I first started in magic, there were only a few of us—and we understood the art form. We were the creators and didn’t share it with the rest of the world. It was not on the Internet. You could not find it anywhere. It was hidden away inside our heads and in notebooks on our shelves.
Now, it’s 2017 and you can go online and type in a word and find out anything you want in the world of magic. It’s depressing in a way—for magic especially. It’s exposing the art form. I scratch my head.
What sets him apart…
Thomas: The one thing that definitely separates Rick Thomas from the entire rest of the magic world is my personality and my presentation. There’s a style that I have and a form of entertainment that’s not fake, it’s not pretentious, it’s’ not “ooh, look at me, I’m fooling you.” My presentation makes it so there is nobody, nobody in the business who carries a show like that.
Dance as part of the show…
Thomas: This is something we didn’t bring last time to Laughlin—my dancers.
My sister Tamara and I were United States Ballroom Dancing champions in our teens. But I originally tried to do my magic as I have seen every other performer do it—dramatic and mystifying. But then there were my feet. I couldn’t stop moving them. My dearest of friends who were in the business said, “Rick, what are you doing?” I go, “I don’t know, I just can’t stop.” At that point, I realized that was my style.
In any industry, it takes you a while to find yourself and that’s why there are people out there who copy ’cause they don’t know who they are yet. They haven’t found themselves. But once you find yourself, you shouldn’t have to copy.
About that copying thing…
Thomas: I had the show in Vegas for 15 years and just three years ago I moved my entire show to Branson. Now I am the star and headliner for the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center. The first year I got into town, I didn’t bring my entire production because we didn’t know if we were going to stay or not. So I did a couple of my illusions that I had done in Vegas for years and one of the reporters wrote, “Rick Thomas needs to look around and see what everybody else is doing and stop copying …with a few of his illusions.”
I had to call the reporter back and say, “Just so you know, those are my effects.” These other guys came from Branson and watched my show in Vegas. They copied them and brought them back here. I can’t help if they’re doing my illusions in their show.”
Branson and the scheduling…
Thomas: I went in the first year, not knowing what was in store for me—if I was going to go back to Vegas or what. After the first season it went so well I was offered a residency at the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center. So now, I carry the season which runs from March through December. This gives me the opportunity to tour, thus I am in Laughlin. I also still get to do Vegas and Atlantic City. I just finished headlining the Sydney Opera House in Australia. So the great part about it is, it gives me the chance to still tour and bring my show out across the country and at the same time have a home.
Magicians, including you, have gotten away from using animals in their acts—and then there was the recent announcement about the ending of the Ringling Bros. What are your thoughts about that?
Thomas: Heartbroken—and I say it only because I did have tigers in my show for 20 years. But we still sell stuffed tigers at the end of my show and the proceeds from the stuffed tigers go to the endangered species fund. So that still allows me to have something from my past in my show but to give something back.
For most people, it’s easy to ridicule or challenge what’s going on. In my case, I spent my life savings taking care of those tigers. I gave them everything I am—I spent more on them than most people spend on their families their entire life, and to get slammed for it is very hurtful.
And the way we treat human beings compared to treating animals is horrific. So you can look at both sides of the coin and say, “well, which is better, the way you treat your animals or your fellow man?”
But we do need to protect them, to take care of them, and in my case I knew it wasn’t good to put the animals through it anymore. For that reason, I placed them at Keepers of the Wild (the sanctuary on Route 66 northeast of Kingman; see ad on page 9 for more on this). I didn’t do it because people were in my face about getting rid of the tigers. I did it because it was a chapter in my life that I accomplished and thought I was at a point where I needed to turn a different direction.
Adding magic to the Carolina Ballet’s “Nutcracker”….
Thomas: Yes, that is probably the most elaborate “Nutcracker” of all. I created illusions nobody’s ever done before. Usually, the Nutcracker has small effects here and there, but when the Carolina Ballet came to me and said, “We want Drosselmeyer to be something grand,” I said, “Okay, let’s do it.” That was great fun to put together. They asked me back for a second year and again for a third.
The Laughlin show.
Thomas: My show is so well-rounded with the dancing and the comedy and magic I tell producers looking for a variety or novelty act, I am the variety act. In fact, in the middle of my act, I go out and do my own variety show. And the shows at Harrah’s are the most rewarding because the audience is so close and so there.
Harrah’s Fiesta Showroom
Wednesday-Sunday, February 15-19. 8 p.m.; doors open 7:40 p.m. (See Showtimes for tickets)