Aug. 07, 2006
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
has payback up his sleeve at magic show
Click on the photos to enlarge them...
taking over Nathan Burton's V Theatre show, explains the trick
he's about to perform on an unsuspecting audience "volunteer":
Photos by Ralph
Above, Mrs. Levitan
examines the spikes that, below, her son will appear to drive
through her torso.
Levitan walks his
mother back to her seat. She's smiling now, but has a
complaint to air following the show.
Nathan Burton, left,
has Levitan take a bow following the successful execution of
the trick (and not his mom).
I creep down the center aisle, scanning 200 audience members in
search of my perfect victim. Nathan Burton has allowed me to perform
as a guest magician in his afternoon show in the V Theatre at the
Burton — no relation to Lance, though at least three members of
his audience ask him after each show — also appears in both nightly
performances of "V—The Ultimate Variety Show," also at the mall
at the Aladdin. But most people recognize the 33-year-old these days
as a contestant on the NBC talent search, "America's Got Talent."
(Watch him at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday.)
Nobody recognizes The Amazing Corey, whom Burton introduces as a
"Tonight Show" regular.
In my illusion, called "audience acupuncture," I will appear to
pierce my victim's body with 21 pointy metal spikes. Its execution
requires the perfect stage-blocking and lever pressure.
You may find this hard to believe, considering my turban, but I
have never performed a magic trick in my life — other than in
rehearsals with Burton.
And even if I don't screw up, tricks are only a small part of a
good magician's bag of, um ...
"It's not about fooling the audience," Burton explained earlier.
"It's about entertaining them. They don't want to sit there for an
hour and watch a guy who's, like, 'I'm smarter than you and I can
fool you.' "
And Burton — an Arkansas native who began his career by
transforming nickels into dimes for his fellow kindergartners —
said that picking a victim is one of the most important
entertainment choices a magician can make.
"You want somebody outgoing who's going to be fun, but not
somebody who raises their hand," he said. "If they want to be
onstage, they're gonna be a train wreck.
"But you also don't want somebody who's too scared, or they might
give you one-word answers."
Initially, I planned to choose my victim at random. Then I had a
better idea. My parents are visiting from their retirement home in
Arizona this weekend.
"I never like to be in the first row, in case I get called on,"
my mom actually said en route to Burton's show, in which she thought
I would perform some sort of card or ring trick.
"I want to be surprised," she also said.
My mom gets her wish as the applause I request goads her out of
the seat she has shrunken into.
"This is wrong," says Patrick Walters, Burton's electronic
engineer. "This is just wrong."
Roberta Levitan was a fine mom to be raised by. Well, maybe she
was a tad overprotective. Of course, that's just the opinion of the
only neighborhood kid you could find wearing a ski jacket and gloves
during a game of kickball in 50-degree weather.
"I have some issues I'd like to work out right now on this
stage," I tell the audience.
What made me want to kill myself in childhood turns out quite
useful in adulthood.
Two of the show's five showgirls wheel out the audience
acupuncture box, which my mother will lay across. Not a regular
feature of Burton's act, it was borrowed from designer Bill Smith,
whose Las Vegas company, Magic Ventures, also builds props for the
The lovely Jessica Noury and Tracy Vietmeier remove a white sheet
that conceals the protruding spikes. I have my mom verify that they
are real and pointy. (The spikes, not the ... oh, never mind.) Then
I pump the spikes up and down to impress the crowd.
"I'm gonna kill you," my mother tells me.
Actually, it's the reverse that could happen. We magicians never
give away each other's secrets. But I will say that it is possible,
however unlikely, for me to accidentally take out of this world the
woman who brought me into it. (Burton is not only standing close by
to get his face into this article's photos, but to prevent me from
I tell my mother that she might experience problems drinking
after this. She replies, "I might start drinking." (If you're
wondering where my sense of humor came from, so am I.)
As Noury and Vietmeier immobilize Mrs. Levitan, I bring up the
time she forced me to furnish her with the phone number of the kid
who was throwing the party that I wasn't invited to. And, of
course, the fact that she thought reproducing with a 5-foot-9 male
was a good idea for someone who stands 5-foot-zero.
"Do you think it's fun being a 5-foot-5 man?" I ask her.
Every mother should be lucky enough to have a son like me.
Mom's face, which is all I can see popping out of the locked
contraption, contorts with laughter. Unfortunately, it's the only
face doing so at this point. (Later, Burton explains why I started
losing the audience: "They couldn't figure out if this was real or
part of the act. And after a while, they didn't care. They were
like: 'Leave us alone. We're on vacation.' ")
I pull the lever. Mom survives. The crowd applauds (possibly
because the trick has ended). But the real show, for me at least,
occurs outside the theater. This is when I get my mother's true
reaction, not the one she let everyone else see.
"You couldn't wait until they fixed my tooth?!" she screams,
waving a finger. (Mom's having a bad dental-crown day. Onstage, she
was obsessing not about her safety, but about whether anyone would
notice her slightly misshapen smile.)
"Oh, you're taping me now?" she asks after spotting my recorder.
Mom walks off, helping me complete a second illusion: making an
audience member disappear.
"Your mother is no longer speaking to the media," my father
Fear and Loafing appears every Monday in the Living section.
Levitan's previous adventures can be found at