David Copperfield’s MGM Grand show proves he’s still master of illusion

David Copperfield performs at the MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theatre — Photo courtesy of MGM Grand

LAS VEGAS — David Copperfield’s illustrious career of oohing and aahing audiences is so varied and successful that the illusionist could sit back on his laurels and enjoy his deserved status as the Harry Houdini of our time. He has attained almost mythic status as a true master of magic, a standard bearer who rightfully can say he’s been there, done that. What else can he accomplish? How does one top a career with so many highlights?

Copperfield, ever the dedicated performer, has chosen intimacy over spectacle in his new stage show at the MGM Grand’s Hollywood Theatre in Las Vegas. Stringing together some of his classic tricks with amazing new ones, the illusionist is able to achieve a definite sense of eerie awe throughout the show. Many of his illusions belie explanation and cause instant head scratches from the enthralled audience. Working his way through a dozen or so acts, the performer never misses a beat, never lets on that his tricks defy the tenants of physics and good reason. To say that he’s a cool cat would be an understatement.

As the lights dim on the intimate Hollywood Theatre, the audience is treated to a retrospective video of Copperfield’s influence in the media spotlight. From the many references on sitcoms to Oprah Winfrey’s proclamation that he is “the greatest illusionist of our time,” the introduction sets up the 90-minute show with a feeling of credibility. Copperfield is not some afternoon lounge act, pulling rabbits out of hats or coins from behind ears.

When he makes his entrance on the small, yet manageable stage, there’s hardly a moment wasted before the illusions begin. The tricks that he has amassed for the evening are breathtakingly realized in front of the scrutinizing eyes of the audience. Often during the show, Copperfield invites spectators to come on stage and inspect the surroundings of a particular act. And these audience members aren’t merely plants who are in on the joke. Several times Copperfield will throw frisbees into the crowd to keep his selection process as random as possible. The young and old, male and female, dapper and casually dressed all scale the heights to the stage, not knowing what to expect. They all leave with chins dropped to the floor.

The audience-performer relationship proves to be symbiotic with Copperfield making his way among the 740 seats of the Hollywood Theatre, instigating patrons to trust him with their possessions, their safety and many times their lives.

Of the actual acts, there are several that stand out. One illusion involves a near empty stage that within seconds is filled with a shiny classic car that seemingly floats in from nowhere. In true showmanship fashion, Copperfield gets into the car and revs it up. He still has that undeniable flair about him, and the women in the audience all seem positively smitten. Many a kiss are planted on his cheek before the night is complete. (The performer even jokes about his past magic tricks involving wind machines, mysterious stares and his flowing hair.)

One of the highlights of the show is a sequence where Copperfield places his feet into a tiny vault and then proceeds to squish the length of his body to a few inches. His moving head is placed right next to his moving feet, as if his torso vanishes in thin air.

As with any magic show, audience members constantly move their heads around to figure out where the strings are attached, where the trapdoors are located, where the body doubles must be stationed. But in Copperfield’s show at the MGM Grand, the audience can search for eons. There is no evidence that the performer is an actual performer, that these tricks are tricks. His movements and devoted talents are seamless. There’s such an earned trust in the Hollywood Theatre that the show takes on an almost supernatural bent, as if a conjurer’s talents were on display, rather than a mega-magician.

Compared to the other offerings on the Las Vegas Strip, Copperfield ranks high. For his asking price, one is completely enthralled for 90 minutes and likely will walk away with a stunned look on his or her face. That feeling of awe is not always achieved in Las Vegas.

Copperfield, on the other hand, has devised a set of illusions that is the complete opposite. Later on in the night, audience members will find themselves gambling away their disposable incomes in the casino, but their only thoughts will be of t

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com