Returning Dirk Arthur Injects Big-Cat Antics Back Into the Strip


Risking Strip sacrilege (Strip-rilege?), I’ll admit: After the third or fourth disappearing-reappearing tiger/leopard/panther/Sylvester the Puddytat/whatever, illusionist shows leave me disillusioned.

Wondrous as the magic might be, I can’t help thinking: Move on, or let me get a head start toward the 26th level of the parking garage.

Seems only fair to acknowledge a bias before discussing the return of Vegas veteran (33 years and counting) prestidigitator Dirk Arthur in his new Wild Illusions! at the Riviera’s Starlite Theatre. More palatable than some magicians who perform with smirky self-satisfaction as if they’re otherworldly demigods (fill in the names yourself), Arthur’s a mellower wizard—a likable chap with whom to spend an evening (barely an hour, actually).

We’ve already covered more than half the action of this modestly sized show in the cozily apportioned Starlite—a snow leopard, black panther and tigers of various tints and hues are shuttled in and out of cages, vanish behind draped chambers to be replaced by female dancers/assistants and Arthur himself, and strike regal poses. (Oddly, in the middle of this, a lethargic chicken that looks like it’s pecked at a few martini glasses pops in and out of sight in a separate bit.)

Should this give you thrills and chills, there are a number to be had. Otherwise, you could set your yawns by them. Different strokes, kids. Though one trick—in which an overgrown kitty appears where a giant container set ablaze had been a moment earlier—is a legitimate flash of wow.

Trying way too hard to give the show a rockin’ pulse, a throbbing soundtrack (think Crazy Girls and Chippendales) is cranked to ear-bleed levels, to the point that at a recent show, Arthur twice had to request it be dialed down so we could hear him. Predictably treacly—with several awww moments—a video from his Big Cat Magic special on Animal Planet chronicles his care of the cute beasties (and ignores his safety violations cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—since resolved—and PETA protests).

When he goes smaller scale—making birds appear, disappear and multiply, ripping a $100 bill, then reassembling it, or doing likewise with a newspaper—and couples it with his easygoing way with audience members, the results are charming interludes to break up the feline drumbeat.

Bigger non-pussycat moments offer some intrigue, including Arthur escaping from a chamber with looming corkscrew thingamabobs that threaten to shred him, then reappearing in the audience. Levitating a sports car before making it go poof is one of two big-ticket tricks. Conjuring up a helicopter onstage is the other. Inexplicably, the latter is linked to a James Bond theme, even though 007’s vehicular adventures are almost exclusively in the planes/trains/automobiles/space shuttle vein (yes, the unfortunate Moonraker), rather than choppers.

Forgive me for assigning all this to Magic Business as Usual, but it all seems to follow the checklist, rather than rewrite it. Avid fans of the abra-CAT-dabra arts will be substantially entertained. Others will find Wild Illusions! to be mild amusement.

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