Thursday, October 10, 2013

From America's Got Talent to Tropicana's Magic Headliner Murray Sawchuck Makes His Mark

Chloe Crawford - Murray Sawchuck - Lefty 
by Frankie Tease Nov.2012, Las Vegas

Show Review

Murray Sawchuck is one of those people you relish meeting if not for his magic, then for his sheer fame. Tons of people remember him as he spoke these words on America's Got Talent in 2010 "America, this is the trick you'll be talking about tomorrow" and vanished a life-size real train in honor of his Canadian railroad-worker father. A slight-of-hand performer and title holder of World Champion Magician, Murray has been touring the planet for well over 20 years. Korea and Japan are just two of those places he's a favorite and his almost daily show is now at the Laugh Factory at Tropicana in Vegas. Partners include his wife Chloe Crawford, and long-time magic partner "Lefty". Other TV appearances you may know Murray from include: Celebracadabra, Celebrity Blind Date, Entertainment Tonight, Fast Track to Fame, The Jadagrace Show, Jerry Lewis Telathon, Last Comic Standing, Pawn Stars, Reno 911, and War of the Worlds 2: The Next Wave, to name a few. Famous for holding over 20 other titles, Murray is a dominant force world-wide in Magic and Illusion as well as a fierce competitor as a Comedic and TV Personality.

A tall and slender blonde, Celebrity Magician "Murray" is not only well-gifted in skills and looks, but he's funny as hell - a lessor known fact. I found this out in November while attending his live 7pm show at the Tropicana, and I was blown away. Having been to very few magic shows and seen several bad ones on TV, I was a magic skeptic until I saw Murray. This is how magic should be done, and other prominent acts should come and take lessons. Put aside that his show is all ages, because Murray takes every opportunity to present his clean and dirty jokes, playing to the young and old victoriously and without offense. He's craftily able to make jokes to adults that kids wouldn't even get. That's a skill you can make a lot of money on, let's face it (Bob Saget comes to mind). 

As I came up the elevator to the showroom which was super easy to park and get to, I was greeted by the Maitre D with a gift package from Murray. A signed poster, hat and dvd, this guy knows how to make the press feel welcome. Beginning traditionally, Murray enters the smallish stage in the 300 + legendary Tropicana showroom and says he thinks he should make a wardrobe change. As he waves a black cloth from foot to head to foot again, his entirely new Armani outfit is revealed. He makes a joke that it's "Salvation Armani" but we know it's not. It's one of those things where you know it's a trick, but it's so fast, you don't know how he did it. Turns out he's just warming us up to get us to keep up with him the entire rest of the show.

The live show is a lightening fast blur of activity starting with his first intentional "joke" trick failure with an egg and a frying pan. The result is a burst of yellow feathers that cover the stage and float everywhere. Murray next launches into a very lengthy audience participation moment, bringing three innocent adults to stage, and has each pick a card. Asking the trio to show the audience their cards, Murray goes through a complicated amount of posturing before he does what he promises: catching three cards with his bent sword. Amazingly, those three cards are the ones that the three audience members chose. Even though you know its a trick, you definitely have no idea how he did it. But even if those weren't the cards they chose, how did he throw a deck in the air and come out with three cards on his sword tip? 

The comic relief Lefty came out mid-show and did some beautiful slight of hand card tricks. A gorgeously smooth melodic act, Lefty has done this before having started performing magic shows with his family at the ripe age of four. 

Next it was time to lock Chloe up just to set her free in a complex medley involving chains and a wood box. Stunningly beautiful Chloe Crawford is a featured dancer in the show "Fantasy" at the Luxor, and is trained in ballet, tap, jazz, and modern dance. Murray met Chloe while they performed on a American cruise ship in Mexico, about five years ago. Love took hold and he brought her to Vegas and began placing her in his act. 

The "Puzzler" was one of my favorite tricks, where Chloe enters a different box, and Murray begins by putting a metal divider right through her by all appearances. He progresses to pushing a cube through each area until only the edges of the box on all sides were visible, the middle completely hollow. Stunning stuff. The hilariousness cannot be described because of Murray's lightening fast wit, and lightening fast slight of hand. You are left with the knowledge that you were tricked but no idea and I mean no idea, of how it happened. We could see through all parts of the box by the time he was finished, causing me to ask her later "where the heck did you go?" Of course, the answer from Chloe was a smile.

I really remembered and loved the Newspaper Trick. Murray comes out to a single stool and picks up today's newspaper. We can clearly see the headline "Unmasking Holiday Fun on the Strip" showing it's today's local paper. He opens the paper and instead of reading it, begins to tear it into squares. As he tears, he ends up with two piles of paper, one in each hand. To my astonishment he proceeds to reconnect the paper and casually give it a read as it appears whole again. There were creases visible where there once were not, but I still had no idea how he did that. To top it off, he stands up and out of the paper, he pulls an audience member's shoe that he had asked for at the very beginning of the show. Applause rang out as he lets us know he's added an air freshener around the shoe to freshen it up for the guy. We waited over an hour for that shoe to reappear, and it did when we least expected it. Such a tease.

I was fortunate to arrange an interview so I hung around after the show as Murray mingled and took photos with rabid fans. "I'll sign your whole stack" he said at one point taking everything the woman had just bought at his merchandise stand. He's extremely gracious. I settled into the downstairs lounge as directed and set up for what I knew would be a fun interview. Murray (who has also become a Magic historian) didn't disappoint. His wife and beautiful assistant Chloe was dealing with a hoarse throat, so I promised to interview her at length another time as she was resting with her cocoa and would be due at the "Fantasy" show at the Luxor in less than an hour. Over drinks and with his sidekicks, we chatted about his life, his performance, and the genre that is magic, as well as what career mountain Murray Sawchuck is now climbing. Here is what he had to say.


FT: How long have you been performing here in Vegas?
MS: Ten years ago I came from Vancouver, Canada. 

FT: I noticed you just got your citizenship in the U.S. a couple years ago, congratulations.
MS: Yes, on Friday Feb. 13th, two years ago. 

FT: You love making fun of magic before you do your tricks, what's that about? 
MS: I think it sets the tone. It's a disclaimer to the audience that I'm them. I get it. I know I don't have special powers. I'm sitting with them in the audience at the same time I'm on stage. It also sets up for a better trick, 'cause you don't know when the trick is even going to happen. Then when it actually does happen, it's "oh my god, it actually is a trick". It disarms them so far and keeps them guessing the whole show, and it keeps it interesting. 

FT: You tease the hell out of us. And it was like, "ok now, are you really, really ready?"
MS: That's the idea. And we get a lot of different audiences coming through.

FT: Who's your favorite magician right now?
MS: My favorite magician right now, honestly... it's strange because it wouldn't be a magician, but an entertainer. It would be Eugene Levy, I'm a huge fan of his. He's in all the movies, thick black unibrow almost, thick black hair. He and Steve Martin were in "Cheaper by the Dozen". He was the guy in "American Pie". The conservative guy with the button up shirt, he caught the guy in the kitchen with the pie. 

FT: He's almost got a church-like conservative condescending thing going.
MS: That's his character he always plays, and seems to get cast in. Very conservative. He always tries to do the right thing, and he always screws up. But I'm a fan of his for a few reasons. He's so well branded, and he's worked forever in the business, he 'gets' his comedy, and he commits. Branding's a lot to do with it. [drinks arrive to table, and Murray toasts] Cheers and to good health.

FT: What is your funniest audience participation show moment to date?
MS: I used to do a bit in the audience. People always say "You're a world champion so you should be able to do a magic trick with anything, any prop given to you right away. So it's a challenge and I'm going to do that right now. I asked everyone in the audience for stuff. I never asked for jewelry or glasses because people need those, and it's a magic act. It wouldn't be very good if you can't see a damn thing without glasses. I never asked for jewelry or rings or anything because I didn't want to lose 'em. I asked for a jacket, a cane... whatever the case. So, I walk through the whole audience, I grab the stuff, and as I'm walking down the aisle, a guy hands me his leg. He had popped off his leg and hands me his prosthetic leg. You can't buy that kind of comedy. Now it's in the script we have a leg on stage. But the bit was a huge cardboard box was on stage. Oh, the last thing I'd pick up from the audience was a child. I'd pick up like a nine year old kid 'cause every parent would go "take my kid", so I'd grab one on the way up. I'd have a kid and all this stuff. I'd put them all in the box and as I put them the box and push it off stage. As I turned the box and pushed it off stage, it said E-Bay on the other side of the box. And that was the bit.

FT: I'd like to ask you about the Magic Castle. This is a mecca for professional magicians and illusionists. What are some of the stories that stand out for you? Did you spend a lot of time at the Hollywood icon?
MS: Oh sure [with Canadian accent]. My wife Chloe and I have both worked there. Magic acts who play there are considered a magician's magician. Everyone I think in their field, wants to be some sort of practitioner of it, whether you're a doctor or comedian, you want to be a comedian's comedian. So I was lucky that I achieved that early in my career. My first time there was 21. I was lucky to do that. And, every time it was nerve-racking. People always go "you've done this so many times now". Every time I play there it's like I'm walking through those doors for the first time. I'll never forget that. Because in my business when I did my first week there ever, in my mind I thought I could have stopped my career right then. In my mind coming from Canada, I performed at THE place. It's like playing Carnegie Hall for a singer. Money or success aside, I felt that I'd achieved success with something that I started out in doing a coin trick, and an elastic band. I achieved playing the Magic Castle in Hollywood. To me I'd been full circle. And now of course, this is something else I never dreamed of.

FT: You played with Siegfried and Roy toys, and now you're playing on the Las Vegas Strip, which they made famous for magic. 
MS: I'm playing in the hotel they started in. They weren't the first magicians on the Strip. The first was guy was named Jack Kodell. You have to go back and check '43 or '42, he played the Thunderbird Hotel which was way down by the Stratosphere across from the Sahara. It's no longer there, it's been demolished. He played there in '42 or '43 and he was the first magician to ever play Vegas. That's when the boys owned the town and he was hired by them. Siegfried and Roy were the first magicians to play the strip with a live animal, a tiger. And they played right here at the Tropicana in the Follies Berger. They were a specialty act in the show. It's great to be in the same hotel they played in. Ironically I played the Frontier, which is the second hotel they ever played in. Later they played the MGM. 

FT: What is your favorite place to perform of all time?
MS: I would say, Monte Carlo Monaco was my favorite venue ever. Let's say you watch a Disney or a Pixar movie, like Rattatoui. You look at a movie like Rattatoui or Cinderella. I've always loved looking at a cartoon even Tom and Jerry and you look at them and think "Wouldn't it be fun to live in that world for an hour?" Everything is just so cool and exciting it's like Whoville. I've always loved that. Well, going to Monte Carlo Monaco. I had an apartment up on Beausoleil which is France. Because to live in Monaco is a fortune. So, I walked 380 steps up the hill, and literally when it became France that's where I rented my apt. It was literally $4,000 a month to live in Monaco. I'd walk down these 380 stairs to my show at the Monte Carlo Casino, THE casino. The one that everyone sees on TV, THE one. I'd walk down there it felt like I was in a cartoon. You see - at nine in the morning - you see women in these $2,000 shoes, these $20,000 mink coats. I'm walking in jeans and running shoes to go have a coffee. I'm thinking "I have to dress up to go out at nine in the morning." I'd walk to the little cafe' and you see people walking their dogs in these little nice pretty leashes. The palace was right up the hill. So it was like being in a Disney movie for like five, six weeks of my life. 

FT: You've magic tricked your way to a new class, being the son of a railroad working family. You parents must be pretty proud of you.
MS: Yeah. Dad still says "when are you going to get a real job with a pension plan?" But, now he finally understands what we do and what we've done. I like the fact that I got to give back a little bit by vanishing a train exactly like the one he worked on, live. It was a real train on America's Got Talent. It was a replica of his. We couldn't bring his from Canada, we don't even know where that is. But we found a replica of the same one. We put his train numbers on the side of the train. 

FT: That was such a sentimental moment then. And you also said it was the most nerve-racking moment ever.
MS: The most nerve-racking. I'll never do that again. TV is not nerve-racking. A competition show is nerve-racking. Especially when you're following a ten year old child that can sing like an angel. 

FT: You're already a career Magician at that point.
MS: I'd had twenty years, yes. 

FT: It obviously garnered you a lot of new fans after the appearance.
MS: It changed my whole career. 

FT: Is bringing good magic to skeptics - and I just saw your good magic - is that something that's important to you? There is so much bad magic that some people won't go see a magic show. I feel like you're turning skeptics into fans one person at a time. 
MS: I get tired of magicians pretending they're magicians. People watch the show and they go "I'm not even believing what he's selling". Now if you can act like one, then you can sell it. In this town Lance Burton sold it very well. He was in this town for almost 20 or 30 years. When he walked on stage, if you look in a book, he looked like a magician. He was a conservative straight-up magician. He looked the part, he played the part, and he did great magic. A lot of Magicians think they're doing that and they're not. They're not honest with themselves and they don't look in the mirror. So, for me it's pretty important that the magic is good. And what people don't realize is that I sort of make fun of magic in my show and joke around. But to make fun of magic, you need to do it really well, before you can actually go back and make fun of it. [Magician Lefty enters and sits at the table]. In this town, there's a lot of us that we think we're stars. I say think. Then, Siegfried and Roy walk in the room. If you're ever trying to figure out the clarity of what a star is, they are stars. They've paid their dues, they've worked all their lives. 

I mean I remember talking with Siegfried when he was 50 years old and he said "These young kids" (looking at me) "you want everything right now. I made it in Vegas when I was 50. I came here when I was old and I made it when I was old. You guys want everything tomorrow. You want to be Justin Beiber, you want to be Brittany Spears". He said "In reality that's not real. Most people are like Bonnie Rait, like Willie Nelson. They have to really work hard to get there."
Lefty: They were actually the first people to actually push the casino and force the casino to have an early show that was not topless. Their first gig in Vegas was in our room. It's amazing how they're known for the tigers themselves, but they revolutionized having an early show. At the time everything was topless. 

FT: I heard you're adding an early show - speaking of that - at 4pm on Saturday?
MS: Yes that was Chloe's idea. She said we have kids wanting to see our show, so why don't we do it earlier and on Saturday? It worked. We did it for the first time last Saturday and it was really a big hit. We haven't even pushed it yet. We changed it just a little, take a little of the adult humor out. 

FT: There is a stand-up in you, not just a Magician. Have you ever tried doing just stand-up comedy? You're quick as hell.
MS: Hell's pretty quick, but it depends how bad you are. When I was at the Frontier back in the day (2002), Lefty was working with me as well. He was working with me as a best friend kind of helping. Toward the end of that contract he came in doing the act. Little did we know, ten years later, it's a big fixture in my show and it works great. The situation with the comedy is, when I got here, 2002, reality TV was just starting to boom. American Idol started to hit big, Survivor just started to hit big. There was a guy on that show, William Hung. You've probably heard of that guy. He sang "She Bangs, She Bangs". Everyone knows of him. He couldn't sing could he? But everyone knows of him. There's the fame. That's when I realized, I need to get on TV more. As a magician you don't get on TV. But, as a comedian you get on TV a lot more. So, on my day off at the Frontier, I would get two days off. I would drive into L.A., I would do open mics at the Laugh Factory, ironically. Ten years later, isn't that strange? (His show is now at Vegas Tropicana's Laugh Factory). 

But I'd sit in the sidewalk at nine in the morning. Here's how it worked. They would only take the first 15 people on the list. After that you're a stand-by. They could only do 15 people, three minutes a piece. The point is they opened the doors at seven o' clock, that's when they did the open mic night. They'd open the doors at 5:30 and 7:00 is when we stared. Well, here's the thing. If you arrived at 6:00 or 4:30 pm to put your name on the list, there would already be 30 people in line. So, if you didn't get there at nine in the morning, to sit on the sidewalk in front of the door, to guarantee your position to be first, third, or fifth, then you never got to perform that night. I'm not driving all the way from Vegas, spending $100 bux on gas to get there, and back, and not getting on stage. So, I'd get there and get a coffee from The Coffee Bean with a book, and I'd sit there from nine in the morning 'til seven o' clock at night, actually 5:30 pm, and put my name on the list once the doors open. People would bring lawn chairs and everything. People would laugh. I was headlining a show at the Frontier and in every magazine and on the billboards. And I'd bring my magazine and sit on the sidewalk to do three minutes free. People don't understand when I went on stage, it was strictly stand-up, there was no magic. So that's where the stand-up came from. Because a lot of people think they're funny, but they're not. So I wanted to become as good at being funny, as I was at magic at the time. 

FT: So you went down to work your comedy muscle.
MS: I wasn't funny. Nobody is really funny. Let's be honest. You spill a drink on your phone right now, we all make a joke about it, and it's funny because we were all there when it happened. When you're in a theater, there's nothing funny that happens, you have to create it. You have to set the scene, which is the set up, and then middle, and then the punchline. There is an art to doing that. When you're with your friends, being funny, well - you can just be funny because something happened. 

FT: Well what's your favorite go-to humor topic? 
MS: Lefty, he's the comedy in the whole show.

FT: Wow this is a duo that's lasted ten years together. That's pretty good.
MS: Yeah, Lefty and I got divorced and Chloe and I just got married. We're pretty excited about that.

Lefty: I lost the ring. 

MS: Just Kidding.

FT: And now you do three-ways?
MS: Now the interview just went to another level. 

FT: Were you Lefty? 
MS: No, he was Righty.

Lefty: I tell people that the people good at Improv have a unique skill that they can process the info quicker than the average person. Because, when you say something Murray thinks of five things at the same time. How many times are you at a party, and they say something, someone says something about it, and two people go "Oh I was thinking that." But because they don't have the Improv Skill, and they aren't quick enough, they can't get it out. It keeps it fresh because when people come on stage, he can make it even more funny.

FT: I was surprised how much the comedy stood-up next to the magic in your show. It's just like, wait a minute - I didn't know this guy was funny. It's perfect for the Laugh Factory. 
MS: Thank You

FT: Where did you learn most of your magic tricks?
MS: At a gay club. No, I learned most of my tricks at a magic club I belonged to in Vancouver, Canada. Seven, eight years old, once a month, just like any club, you know there's a club out there for everything, the Rotary, the Red Hatters, you name it there is a club for it. And basically I'd go there and get in front of the older guys and I'd perform. They loved magic, and I'd sit there and learn. Then I'd go home and stay up 'til two in the morning and practice. I learned from two mentors, he was an important guy at the club in Vancouver. Shawn Faquhar he's very prominent in the Vancouver scene. He's the guy that basically gives his left arm to anybody. He loves teaching, he loves helping people, and he did. I bought a lot of his old props off him. And he helped me until my early teens. He really does have a love for magic. I bought a truck and had to haul this stuff around. He encouraged me to go to my first magic convention - it was near Rush Prairie, Washington - and I met a magician named Mr. Electric and his wife Carol, his assistant. I didn't know at the time, but in the 40's and late 70's they were the premier variety act in the world. Don't forget the light bulb was invented in the late 30's or 40's. So, they had an act in the early 40's where he would put a light bulb in his hand and light it with his bare hand. So we'd just invented something so amazing, and now the man is holding it in his bare hands. So it was amazing taking something that was that technical and then turning it into an act. They were headliners at the time at this magic convention, and I got to see them because they allowed minors in. He's still a good friend of mine. We have dinner with him every two or three months. 

FT: So there's a lot of problems with stealing acts ? 
MS: I invented an act with compact discs that got stolen and I did it first at the age of 17. It was all over Asia before I knew it.

FT: How did you and Lefty meet? 
Lefty: Murray and I had met at a magic convention on the east coast 2 1/2 years before I came to Vegas. I came to Vegas two weeks before Murray did. We sort of became friends and bonded. As I tell people in our business you not only have to be good at what you do on stage, and at a multitude of things. People don't realize a lot of times you have to do your own promotions. Your could be editing your music, your head shots. If you're travelling abroad you learn how to sew. If your jacket rips, what do you do? So we bonded not only from a performance aspect, but also from a business aspect and things that we do offstage. 

FT: Murray, with all of your accomplishments, what is your goal now?
MS: My goal is to be a TV host like Tom Bergeron of "Dancing with the Stars".

And at that point he took his two bundles of joy little toy dogs and his wife Chloe who had to rush off to her evening performance duties and Murray left the building. This is one of those power couples I know will continue dominating news and appearances in Vegas, because between their looks, talent, and charm, they've got it all.

Celebrity Magician Murray Sawchuck is at Tropicana Laugh Factory until 2014, 4pm, almost daily. See Sawchuck on TLC's "What Not to Wear" soon, as well as Hallmark's "Home and Family" and of course he continues to fulfill his role as magic expert on the History Channel's famous show "Pawn Stars". See for seasonal deals, world-tour info, Vegas show info and tickets.

Article and photo by Frankie Tease