Epic Illusions

Illusionist Rick Thomas has never been about competing with or trying to “out do” other magicians. The veteran showman has always been about keeping his eye on his own show, creating his own effects, and working to find ways to make them even better. He’s constantly thinking outside the traditional box and finding his own way in the world of magic because Thomas likes being different. It is a philosophy that has served him well his entire career, including 15 years as one of the top illusionists in Las Vegas before establishing a residency in Branson, Missouri at the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center, and touring the world with his show. His show is constantly evolving and changing direction.
Thomas just returned from a tour of South Africa, and next year he takes the largest touring magic show to Australia. In the meantime, he returns to Harrah’s Laughlin with a brand new show.
“I really do look forward to presenting the most amazing magic in the world and it just happens to be at Harrah’s Laughlin,” he told the Laughlin entertainer. “Last year when we were there, we were told the show was grand, this time it is epic.
“There are massive differences. When I first came to the theater, I didn’t know what I could pull off in there because I hadn’t been in the theater previously. Now that I do, we’re pulling out all the stops. We’re coming in and flying in the air, and I can tell you, there’ll be a helicopter on stage as well, and a beautiful one at that.
“That, along of course, with all of our dancers, and with our background in ballroom dancing that we have it’s like no other magic production worldwide,” he said. “We’re thrilled with the style and the presentation that we offer. I was in Vegas for 15 straight years and this show we’re bringing to Laughlin even surpasses that show.
“I would say the show this year is easily twice the show it was last year as well. We make sure that we fill the stage and we bring in, I guarantee, magic you have not seen before, so we’re very happy with that. We’re looking forward to a great show and hopefully they like it and my dancers — they’re gorgeous, absolutely stunning people — and the dancing in the show is the finest audiences will see and the magician is not half bad himself. The ballroom dancing helps me from falling over on stage.”
So why haven’t Americans seen Thomas on “Dancing With The Stars?”
“I was actually up for ‘Dancing With The Stars.’ They had Penn from Penn & Teller and myself up for it. They chose Penn instead of me. He was on for one show and he was the first person knocked off the show. I’m going, ‘What are you thinking?’ Since then, no luck whatsoever.”
Thomas’ career 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 because 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.
His approach is far beyond simply sawing a lady in half. Thomas takes the art form to a different level, to that of a skilled entertainer who does it all through showmanship and talent.
“You don’t need the fire and the water…no, no, no. I promise you,” he said. “It’s more than that. I think you can add the pyro and the special effects but I don’t think it’s necessary.
“I’ll tell you something that’s really funny. I had a truck driver come in and he asked me once, ‘what does it take to pull off your show?’ I said, ‘one tour bus and one semi.’ He was the driver of the semi and he goes, ‘you know, I’ve found the more semis, the less the talent.’ Then I said, ‘well, the one semi it is.’
His grand illusions are innovative, slick creations of his own designs, making him one of those guys other magicians regularly “borrow” from and emulate.
He discovered a long time ago that sometimes the simplest of illusions can be beautiful, memorable and maybe funny.
“Absolutely, they can be many things — it’s all in the way they are presented, there’s a story. Everything in my show is the truth.
“I don’t make up stories to create the show, I created the show around my life and how I made my dreams a reality. I think that’s why it sells so well, because it’s believable. It’s the truth. It is what it is. The stories we share are brilliant.
“Believe it or not, I have an effect where I bring a husband and wife on stage, and in some way or form he happens to be wearing his own watch and that watch gets destroyed…and we have to figure out how to fix the situation,” Thomas said. “And I can tell you, the years that I’ve been presenting this, it is by far, my signature piece and it will bring tears of laughter to your face. It is that funny. And people don’t think when they see my show that as an illusionist it’s going to be a funny show but it is. I think that’s probably also one of the joys of the show that they might call mysterious or serious, but it’s also hysterical. It covers everything. We also say that it includes magic, music, comedy and dance. It’s an extremely well-rounded production.”
Thomas especially likes the challenge of convincing naysayers who think they don’t like magic shows.
“I know there are many people who say, ‘I don’t want to see a magic show,’ and I think the great thing about my show is it’s not about the magic,” he said. “We also say that nothing happens until you dream. There are so many people who have come and seen the show and go, ‘I didn’t know if I was going to like it ’cause it’s a magic show, but, man, this is way different than I ever expected.’
“That’s because it’s not about the magic, they’re thoroughly entertained. It goes way beyond some guy trying to fool you. That’s not my intention anyway. My intention is to completely entertain you and if you get fooled in the process, hey that’s great as well, but your entertainment value is the best in the world.”
Thomas was also asked to create illusions in the most unlikely of places, the ballet, but the Carolina Ballet Company wanted to add a little more magic to their production of the holiday classic, “The Nutcracker.”
“Well, they brought me in again and we did another season for them, creating some more effects,” he said. “So, yes, they’ve done so well, they’ve asked us to come back. I’ve been so busy. I just got back from South Africa and after we do our shows here and finish up our season at the Andy Williams Theater, I’ve just been called in to do the largest magic production in the history of Australia in January, February and March of 2019.
“That’s a big deal as well, so it’s worldwide, ” he added, “And you guys are just the beginning of the front side of our tour, so I’m pretty excited.”
He said Laughlin would be among the first to see some of his latest creations, but he didn’t want to reveal too much about audiences could expect to see.
“It’s a lot of audience participation and it’s for the entire family,” he said. “We try to keep things as much a secret as possible. However, I was doing a show in Korea and Asia really likes to know exactly what the show is going to be. The managers said, ‘please send us what’s in your show and each of the effects.’ So I sent it because they want to know what they’re going to get and I explained everything — each illusion —every single thing that’s going to happen.
“So we get to Korea, we set up the show, they’re so excited, we’re excited and then they give me the program for the show that’s being handed out to everyone in the audience, and it’s my entire show, as I wrote it in their program,” he laughs. “Literally every single thing I was going to do was written word by word, exactly the way it was going to happen.
“To me, it was hysterical. I went, ‘Oh, no!’ There was no element of surprise, nothing.”
Magic is all about the element of surprise.
“Maybe I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “Maybe something didn’t happen according to plan. Magic, for the most part, you don’t know what’s going to happen next…unless you’re in Korea…and if you (the audience) don’t know what’s going to happen next, we can kind of get out of it. Or you realize, ‘that’s not going to happen,’ so you go on to the next piece and the audience goes, ‘did something happen here?’ You can kind of hide it.”


RICK THOMAS

Fiesta Showroom at Harrah’s

Wednesday-Sunday, Feb. 14-25 (8 p.m.)

See “Showtimes” for tickets