MAGIC OF JEN KRAMER Is Delightful, Frothy Fun


Award-winning illusionist brings laughter, surprises and boundless charm to Westgate’s Cabaret Theater…

P.T. Barnum has one of the most memorable legacies in entertainment history. His recent resurgence in popularity, thanks to “The Greatest Showman“, reminds us that despite decades of change in entertainment culture, the master of deception had universal ideas:

“The noblest art is that of making others happy”. – P.T. Barnum

In the world of magic shows, there is an extremely familiar collection of illusions that most entertainers fall back on: card tricks, disappearing/reappearing, nail-biting escapes, “mind reading”, audience predictions and the classic saw-a-lady-in-half are all favorites. What makes or breaks these acts is how they are presented….and whether or not the entertainer is indeed a great showman. Or in this case, show person.

Much has been made in other media about the disproportionate amount of male magicians. I won’t belabor the point other than to say that it’s refreshing to see a lovely young lady front and center as the headliner of a magic show. And Jen Kramer has certainly earned her place on a Las Vegas stage.

Magic of Jen Kramer

Already familiar to fans of television shows like Masters of Illusions and Penn and Teller: Fool Us, Ms. Kramer has risen quickly through the ranks of the magical boys club. Think of her as a “Hermoine Granger” to David Goldrake‘s “Harry Potter”. Despite a young age (she graduated from Yale University in 2014), Jen’s already received honors such as the Merlin Award and Female Magician of the Year 2016 by the International Magicians Society.

Ms. Kramer kicked off her new residency at Westgate Las Vegas just last week. I attended on the second evening of what might be considered a soft opening. Despite a couple of minor technical gaffes, it was a fast-moving and altogether enjoyable 70 minutes. The intimate Westgate Cabaret is the ideal location for Jen’s illusions, many of which rely on detailed sleight of hand.

Magic of Jen Kramer

What Magic of Jen Kramer lacks in large production values is made up for with plenty of comedy, audience participation and charm. Kramer brims with enthusiasm for her craft, drawing the audience into her prestidigitation with a magnetism that Criss Angel could only hope to match.

Kramer’s ability to engage her guests is quite noteworthy. I immediately fell for this young performer, despite know nothing about her background or achievements. What followed that evening was indeed a collection of tried-and-true favorites, but delivered with a next-generation spin.

Magic of Jen Kramer

While the show could actually use some theatrical bombast, it’s off to a solid start. I’ll avoid describing individual illusions (nobody likes review spoilers, anyway). Instead, lets boast about the fact that Jen was able to pull off the near-impossible by stunning me with a few tricks that I’d never seen before (the Rubik’s Cube is still haunting me). That in itself makes this production worthy of the admission price.

The family-friendly show is suitable for all ages and an early start time makes it a perfect pairing for dinner at one of Westgate‘s adjacent restaurants (yes, that’s a blatant plug since I’m a known fan of their dining offerings).

Magic of Jen Kramer

Surprise me once and you can consider me a fan. Do it twice and I’ll call you amazing. Jen Kramer astounded me numerous times in her new residency. So I guess you can label me a “groupie”. Being a fan of Vegas magic acts, that can be considered high praise.

Magic of Jen Kramer performs Wednesday through Saturday at 6pm. Tickets start at $19.99 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here or purchased at the Westgate Box Office. 

Photos: Jen Kramer, Westgate Las Vegas, Beckett Studios, Sammasseur

 

 

 

INFERNO’s Magician Goes Up In Flames


Visually-spectacular production is a victim of its own star performer…

A few years back, the handlers for Britney Spears were faced with an unusual dilemma…what to do when the star of your production is a washed-up tabloid punchline with an inexplicably-strong fan base. Their answer was simple yet effective: launch her residency with a circus of hoopla, stick her onstage with all the pyrotechnics and distractions that money could buy and hope for the best.

As fate would have it, Britney: Piece of Me was indeed an unqualified hit. The mentally-troubled pop tart flapped her arms and silently moved her lips while a small army of gorgeous dancers did the heavy lifting, both literally and figuratively. They carried her around like a mannequin accompanied by prerecorded audio tracks and propped her up in whatever area of the stage that the choreography required. Think of it as “Weekend at Bernie’s: The Musical”.

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                         Joe Labero thanks Britney Spears for her #1 idea…

The minds behind INFERNO: The Fire Spectacular (now playing at Paris Hotel Casino) seem to have taken a similar route. Their featured performer is Joe Labero, an obscure illusionist (at least to American audiences) who’s apparently a big name in Europe. He’s also a former recipient of Illusionist of the Decade. Raise your hand if you’ve heard of him.

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Labero’s version of smoke-and-mirrors distractions comes courtesy of a London pyrotechnic troupe known as The Fuel Girls. You may know them from the UK tour of rock group Fall Out Boy….or maybe not. The resultant pairing is the most uncomfortable seen on a Vegas stage since Criss Angel crawled into bed with Cirque du Soleil nearly a decade ago.

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On their own, The Fuel Girls could easily warrant their own show. Stunts, flame throwers, explosions, choreography and visual effects are all top notch. Ramped up and fleshed out, INFERNO could be to fire what Le Reve and WOW – World of Wonder are to water.

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Alas, the show is hostage to Labero and his magic routines. The illusionist does everything he can to remain front and center, despite being the weak link. Like an annoying uncle who laughs at his own jokes then repeats the punchline a second time, Labero attempts to milk every last clap from the audience.

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Walking to the edge of the stage after each bit, Labero stretches out his arms in a “Ta Dah!” pose that he holds far too long…before dashing into the audience to repeat it in the aisles. There were frequent snickers from people seated all around me. Yes, it’s that embarrassing.

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Labero’s stage presence is hampered by a strong Swedish accent that makes it quite difficult to understand what he’s saying much of the time. Also distracting is that the 54-year-old host is frequently out of breath, heaving heavily and sweating…even in the quieter moments of the show.

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As for the illusions themselves, expect the requisite “person sliced into pieces”, sleight of hand, card tricks and people disappearing/reappearing. Two illusions that do have merit are one where Labero seems to walk right through a person stretched between two supports and another where he passes through a mirror.

Aside from that, there isn’t anything truly special about the magic acts in INFERNO: The Fire Spectacular. With the likes of David Copperfield, David Goldrake, Masters of Illusions, Criss Angel, Matt Franco and many more filling the Strip showrooms with this type of entertainment, was there really a need for another? Of course not, especially when one European import in particular is already doing it so much better (David Goldrake’s IMAGINARIUM was my choice for Best New Production of 2017).

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What makes the show worthy of your consideration are all the sequences without Labero. Pyrotechnics are always jaw-dropping in any medium, but feeling the heat, hearing the sizzle and being bombarded with loud blasts are a visceral experience. In this case, the flames are deftly used through aerial stunts, physically-demanding choreography and handling of fiery objects like batons, whips and an umbrella frame.

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Other saving graces are the elaborate production design and costumes. Stylist collaborators Georgia Richardson and Jeffrey DeBarathy (ALICE: A Steampunk Concert Fantasy) bring a distinctive “Mad Max” look to the performers that’s a perfect match for the Fuel Girls’ visuals. The character of “Animal” is clearly inspired by The Road Warrior.

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Unfortunately, Labero’s attempt to associate his magic acts with the far superior fire aspect are truly cringe-inducing. The two just do not overlap well. It’s clear that the magician has taken his existing acts and awkwardly grafted them onto this new production with wildly uneven results.

Joe frequently breaks from what he’s doing to grab a large vase on the side of the stage and dump its contents into a nearby barrel. “We need more gasoline. Lots and LOTS of GAS O LEEEEEEN!” he exclaims time after time before returning to the business at hand.

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Amidst more hushed chuckling from nearby patrons (several of whom had walked out at this point), my companion leaned in and said “Am I missing something here?”. No, my friend…it’s just the sound of another expensive Strip production going up in flames.

INFERNO: The Fire Spectacular performs Wednesday through Sunday inside the Paris Theater. Tickets start at $65.77 (plus taxes/fees) and can be ordered here.

VegasFool.com is offering a $20 discount on INFERNO by following this link. Discounts on additional shows and hotels can be combined/increased by visiting here.

Photos: INFERNO: The Fire Spectacular, Joe Labero

2017 In Review Part 1 – Best and Worst New Shows


The inaugual “Vegas Unfiltered Wrap-up” is upon us. Brace yourselves…

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. Within the laughter, tears and tragedy were moments of amazement and joy. Whatever you sought, there was something for you to relish and moments to make you cringe. Nothing will let you forget 2017 – the Year in Las Vegas.

Best New Major Show – David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

Small-scale magic shows come and go all the time, yet the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard has been home to two large-scale headliners (David Copperfield and Criss Angel) for several years. Jan Rouven was doing pretty well as the third member of their triad until a nasty scandal sent him behind bars.

David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

Enter David Goldrake, the mysterious muscleman from Luxembourg as heir apparent to Rouven’s crown. His IMAGINARIUM is epic, poetic, classical magic with high-tech dazzle and a solid multi-talented cast (read my full review here).

Let’s hope Goldrake’s mastery can overcome the curse that is Tropicana‘s long-troubled showroom. Skip the mediocre Mindfreak Live at Luxor (in its merciful final year) and give this one your entertainment dollars.

Honorable MentionMiss Behave Gameshow at Bally’s

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Worst New Major Show – Magic Mike Live

What do you get when you build a show around a male stripper movie, then throw out the movie and keep the dancers in their clothes? That’s the cash-grab fiasco now playing at Hard Rock Hotel. I’ve nothing positive to say about Magic Mike Live…but if you’re still curious, you can read my detailed review here. Or you can save yourself some time and just check out this pic below.

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Movie superstar Channing Tatum hung his name on this bait-and-switch mess but you won’t see him anywhere in it. Not even in the posters. The world’s first male revue that mocks male revues (and men in general) with utter contempt, Magic Mike Live is a big fat turkey that deserves to have its head chopped off.

Dishonorable Mention – Black Magic Live at Embassy Night Club

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You’ll want to look away from the disastrous Black Magic Live… 

Photos: Sammasseur, David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

IMAGINARIUM Is Pure, Epic Magic


David Goldrake’s grandiose production at Tropicana will touch your senses and soul…

Something mysterious is going on at the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. The entertainment gods have seen fit to grace that location with three epic magic shows. One performer is legendary, the second is flashy, and the newest is a challenger of major proportions. His name is David Goldrake, and his new show David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM at Tropicana is an entertainment gold mine.

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Goldrake (center) with fellow magicians Jarrett and Raja at the media premiere…            

Following on the heels of Jan Rouven‘s shocking abrupt closure and the short-lived Band of Magicians, one might question the wisdom of opening yet another illusion-based production inside the troubled, beautiful Tropicana Showroom. But the third time is clearly a charm, as David Goldrake’s gorgeous presentation is worthy of the space. It’s also deserving of the opportunity to take on David Copperfield and the far-inferior Criss Angel.

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Say what you will about the relevance of magic shows in 2017 Las Vegas, but IMAGINARIUM is much more than hokey top hats and sexy assistants. With an ethereal introduction of smokey morphing shapes and lush music, IMAGINARIUM sets up a surrealistic mood that the Luxemborg-born Goldrake maintains throughout.

After an opening illusion, Goldrake comes out to introduce himself and explain IMAGINARIUM, the circus sideshow that he visited as a child for a fifty-cent admission price. The experience of growing up as a fascinated young man in Europe permeates the production, enhanced by the host’s unique accent and magnetic presence.

David Goldrake, while known in several countries as an “International Man of Mystery”, has yet to make a mark on U.S. pop culture. When you’re a somewhat unknown quantity in Las Vegas, it helps to have charisma and good looks…both of which Goldrake has in abundance.

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David moves with the grace and elegance of a dancer, yet his massive muscular frame fills the grand Tropicana stage. So do the lush sets and immersive backdrops that pull you into each illusion. Expensive-looking video content from Drop The Spoon (Le Reve/Franco Dragone), steampunk-style design by EDT and costumes from Erin “Topaz” Lareau rival anything that the Cirque-financed Criss Angel has presented at Luxor.

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All of those bells and whistles don’t mean anything if the star performer can’t capture your imagination. IMAGINARIUM does so in spades. Large-scale stunts like a human-sized hourglass disappearance and passing through a sheet of solid metal will have you scratching your head.

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A particularly memorable moment comes when Goldrake collects rings from the hands of three volunteers. Placing them on a spindle while in constant view of the audience, he agitates the rings until they’re suddenly linked together into a small chain. And before you can say “audience plants”, one participant of that illusion was my companion for the evening…there was no collusion.

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David’s assistants, two women and two men, are skilled performers in their own right. The gorgeous dancers, contortionists, acrobats and aerialists get their own well-deserved sequence, an old-tyme European-styled sideshow sequence highlighting individual talents that come together for a rousing mini-finale.

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My favorite set piece, by far, is a salute to Houdini’s underwater straitjacket escape. A shirtless (and ab-tastic) Goldrake is chained and suspended upside-down in a glass chamber filled filled with water before your eyes. Never once is the clear tank out of sight…the gasping, bubbles and struggles are real. So were the accelerated beats of my heart.

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David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

It’s always exciting when a new name bursts on the Vegas scene and raises the bar for a everyone…audiences and performers alike. We saw it happen when Spiegelworld (Absinthe and Cosmo’s Vegas Nocture) challenged Cirque du Soleil, Matt Goss shook up the lounge scene and BAZ: A Musical Mashup redefined musical theater. We’re seeing it once more with David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM.

There’s a hot new illusionist in town and he’s not to be missed. If you see only one large-scale magic show on your trip to Sin City, make it David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM. You will be thrilled, mystified…and your heart will soar skyward.

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David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm. Suitable for all ages. Tickets start at $39.90 plus taxes/fees and can be ordered here. Groupon is currently offering discount seats starting at $28 with no additional fees by clicking here.

Photos: Sammasseur, IMAGINARIUM via Facebook