Interview with Masters Of Illusion: Up To New Tricks

The Masters Of Illusion performed on Feb. 6 at Harrah’s Casino in Atlantic City, and featured routines with Rick Thomas and Michael Finney. The Masters Of Illusion live event magic show will be taking place every Thursday in February at Harrah’s.

Feb. 20 features Peter Gossamer and Ed Alonzo. Gossamer has exhibited his talents in magic on stages in New York, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Singapore and Guam. Alonzo, meanwhile, was one of the featured magicians working on Michael Jackson’s This Is It concert series as well as The Circus tour starring Britney Spears in 2009.

Feb. 27 hosts Michael Turco and Jonathan Pendragon. Turco has headlined at Planet Hollywood with Magic & Mayhem and has collaborated with Dancing With The Stars‘ Lacey Schwimmer to assist with choreography. Pendragon has entertained for Presidential Galas in Washington D.C., the Queen of England, the Prince of Wales and the Royal Family of Monaco.

Rick Thomas (Feb. 6) was named “Magician of the Year” by the Academy of Magical Arts and “Stage Magician of the Year” by the World Magic Awards. He has also appeared on The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson and last year was brought in by Robert Weiss, the artistic director of the Carolina’s Nutcracker Ballet, to be the creative director for the ballet’s magical effects.

Finney had early accomplishments in his career by appearing in 1986 on Star Search on NBC with Ed McMahon as a comedy finalist, and in 2004, performed at the White House Inauguration Gala for President Bush. He is also a Silver Lion Head recipient from Siegfried and Roy.

I discussed with Thomas and Finney what types of illusions audience members can expect to see at the February shows. The transcription is below:

What types of things should people expect from the different presenters at the Masters Of Illusion shows this month?

Rick Thomas: We are bringing in magicians from all over the world to present here at Harrah’s Casino. I am the first and it is a pleasure and I understand that tonight’s show is sold out, so we plan on it being just like that the whole rest of the run. I think the great thing about all the magicians is the versatility and variety. You have guys that are hilarious and very funny. You also have magicians who are tall and do the amazing illusions like I perform. I think you put it all together and it is one strong show.

Can you speak about your show routine for people who have never seen you before?

RT: I have been very privileged in my life to have performed for the last 15 years in Las Vegas in my own show. I am very comfortable on the stage. What I try to do is do a show that has everything in it, not just illusions, but comedy, beautiful dancers and, of course, the magic itself. A lot of audience participation. I realize you have to be very well rounded to entertain everyone.

Michael Finney: I think it’s pretty unique because as far as comedy magic goes, the emphasis on comedy is as strong as my desire to do good magic. I want to perform good magic, but I want to make you laugh at it. I’m not David Copperfield, I am no Lance Burton. I’m a guy that when you see me, you probably think I am going to make you laugh.

Rick, on a past Craig Ferguson show, you performed a trick sawing a woman in half. Are there many variations that one can use during the performance of that illusion?

RT: I always thought that one of the funniest things that anyone can do is listen to two magicians at a restaurant talk about how they are going to cut a girl in half. It sounds morbid, but as far as magicians go, we have all these different ways we are going to cut her in half. We are going to cut her lengthwise, widthwise, how many pieces are we going to cut her in… You are going to see me perform at least two different ways. You will see me cut a girl in not one but many pieces.

What do you remember looking back on bringing magic to the Nutcracker Ballet?

RT: When I created the magic, I wanted it to be more than just the “Uncle” doing a few tricks here and there but creating real magic. For example, making things appear, making people float in the air, but the hardest part of the entire process were the dancers. You had professional ballet dancers, absolutely gorgeous, amazing people who loved their profession and their dance. The moment they found out we were going to do magic, they didn’t handle it too well. They didn’t want their profession to be ruined, they thought, by magic. I said, “Just give me a moment, give me one chance here.” We’d make somebody appear on stage before they danced. The amount of applause they received before they even took their first step was overwhelming for these beautiful dancers.

How do you feel like the Las Vegas-type magic shows that you put on influenced the live theatrics of today’s rock, pop, and some hip-hop concerts?

RT: There is a lot of magic that they try to implement into rock concerts; I think it is great. Rock ‘n’ roll, the guys are awesome on stage, but if you can make him appear or he strums his guitar and it flies across the stage and it changes into something else, it just makes the show that much more theatrical. I think modern magic today is the special lighting, the special effects. When you tie the two together, and you try to come up with something that isn’t magic but magical, then you have a rocking show.

Thinking back on your appearance on Star Search in 1986, what was going through your mind right before and right after your performance that night?

MF: These people, if they think I’m funny doing straight stand-up, they should see me do my comedy magic. On Star Search, I did straight stand-up. That was because a lot of comedians on the circuit used to give me a lot of guff about being a magician comedian. “You wouldn’t be funny if you didn’t have that piece of rope in your hand… ” I would say, “Take this piece of rope and make me laugh.” Even now when I think back how much stronger I could have been had I done the comedy magic, you only had like, two minutes. I still felt comfortable with my stand-up. I knew my stand-up was my own and I made it all the way to the semi-finals, so imagine if I could have done comedy magic on there.

How long did it take you to perfect your card routine and how often do you change it up depending upon where you are?

MF: I think most magicians will tell you everything we do evolves and gets better every time we do it. How long does it take? It takes forever. It is never perfect; nothing is ever completely 100 percent perfect. You strive for that. Now comes a show, I throw in something different and it makes it even better. When you are doing what I am doing, there is opportunity to improve every single time. With my show, the audience dictates how far I go with a certain trick or how much I hold back. If you are the performer, you watch the audience as much as they watch you. They will let you know how far you can take them. I learned that in comedy clubs and corporate jobs. You learn as an instinctive thing after a repetitious amount of time.

What types of situations have been most fruitful for you when perfecting the dialogue that goes into parts of your routine such as your rope trick?

MF: Comedy clubs, I spent 17 years in comedy clubs. I would spend anywhere from 35 to 40 weeks a year on the road, and you would be working anywhere from five to six nights a week doing seven to 10 shows a week. That is the only way you get good at anything. The more you perform, the better you get at it.

As part of the comedy club scene in the 1980s and ’90s, because I was a headliner, I got to travel and work so much. That was the perfect environment. The comedy club audiences weren’t the most sophisticated. It was a crapshoot every time. Then there came a point where I wanted to elevate out of that environment and go to the corporate world and have them appreciate what I was capable of doing.

You donate some of your time for foundations such as Wounded Warriors, Gift For Life, the Michael Finney Foundation and the Pappas Kids Schoolhouse Foundation. Can you share some information on how people can get involved?

MF: With the Pappas Kids Schoolhouse Foundation, we start out doing a big Christmas party for fourth, fifth and sixth graders. We serve them lunch and we bring them Christmas gifts. The Gift Of Life organization helps a child get open-heart surgery for $6,000. Then it was the Red Mountain Boys Academy. These are minority youth kids that are at risk in their teens. The Wounded Warriors, these men and women don’t have the resources that they deserve and fought for, so the private sector has to get involved. This past year, we bought two track chairs for double- and triple-amputee military people that need them. It gives them a little more of their life back. To answer your question, people just have to give their time. It doesn’t always take money.


See the Masters Of Illusion at Harrah’s Casino in Atlantic City on Feb. 20 and Feb. 27. For more information, go to