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MEET THE RICCARDOS

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This is no illusion:

MEET THE RICCARDOS
the hardest working family in vegas entertainment
By Howard T. Brody
Photography Santodonato

When some of Sin City’s movers and shakers told Tommy Riccardo that his family wouldn’t last a month in the highly competitive Las Vegas entertainment market, and that his son Tommy Wind had no chance of headlining a show on the Strip, that was all the incentive the family needed to make the naysayers eat their words.

For several years now “The Magic of Tommy Wind” has been a part of the Las Vegas entertainment scene, and during most of that time Tommy has been a headliner on the Strip. It seems with each passing year Tommy is getting more and more notoriety, not just by being a staple here in Las Vegas, but because his star continues to rise on an international level.

In addition to recently collaborating on a corporate video with IBM in which Wind and a media expert explain technology’s ability to reach an ideal audience, the magician from Staten Island was busy using technology to reach his ideal audience – he had just completed filming an episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet 16.

Scheduled to air in July, not only did Tommy provide all the entertainers for the episode – jugglers, stilt walkers, fire-eaters and hula hoop performers – but he taught a girl named Baby J (Janine) a magic trick that he performs, in which she appears for her grand entrance. In addition to being on MTV, Tommy will be seen performing more than a dozen illusions over a 13-week period on the current season of the CW network’s “Masters of Illusion” (Fridays at 8 p.m. Pacific Time), and will appear in the show’s Christmas Special in December.

But perhaps all that will pale in comparison to the three day stunt he plans to perform that will launch the “Tommy Wind Project” (a docuseries that will be seen online and elsewhere). As we go to press, this mind-boggling event has yet to take place. But as you are reading this, it is already history.

Sometime between June 20 and 30, Tommy crawled inside a large, airtight, Plexiglas box on the Las Vegas Strip that held just enough oxygen for him to breathe. At either end of the box were two small Lear Jet engines blowing inward and slowly increasing pressure up to 200 miles per hour. Over a three-day period Tommy fought the elements and on the last day he was chained, wore a straightjacket, shackles and handcuffs. The second part of the challenge was that he had to escape before each of the engines generated up to 500 miles an hour of pressure (1,000 total), making it impossible for him to breathe. Would Tommy Wind be done in by the wind created from jet engines? If you didn’t read his obituary online or in the newspaper, then he obviously executed this illusion perfectly and came away unscathed. Otherwise, the tone of this article turns quite ominous, doesn’t it?

Needless to say, the road to having his name at the top of a marquee on the Strip and defying death in a box with jet engines about to crush him wasn’t an easy one for the 27-year-old magician, who once won Best Teen Magician of the Year at the World Magic Awards in 2009. It’s certainly a far cry from his first gig at a local pizzeria where he worked as a 13-year-old for a free a slice of pizza, a Coke and tips.

Tommy caught the magic bug early when his grandfather would entertain him at his Brooklyn home with basic sleight of hand coin and card tricks. By the time Tommy was seven his grandfather taught him the vanishing handkerchief trick and as they say the rest is history.

Following a family trip to Las Vegas and a visit to local magic stores, Wind began practicing his craft at school and instead of eating lunch he’d go from table to table in the school cafeteria performing card tricks.

“What better way to get at sleight of hand than with a bunch of teenagers who are trying to figure out how you do it?” he said.

But it was during a family cruise that Tommy Wind knew what was in his future. One night, a crew member asked him to do some tricks for the passengers and after seeing the looks on their faces and hearing a room full of applause, “it was the moment I knew. It was the greatest joy I’d ever felt,” he recalled.

From there Tommy Wind started doing parties, sharpening his skills with close-up magic. He even built a 25-minute full production show that he performed in school, which led to the local pizzeria job.

In hindsight it’s easy to understand why Tommy would take so easily to performing. Entertainment was in his blood. His mother Arlene was a professional dancer on Broadway and his manager/father Tommy Riccardo was an orchestra leader in New York. His parents were fully supportive of helping him build his stage presence, driving him to every event, every show and every appearance. 

Wind continued to sharpen his skills as a magician getting a gig at the Staten Island Zoo – where his parents served as light and stage crew lugging his illusions through the snow – and finally landing an engagement in Atlantic City.

It wasn’t exactly the main room at the Taj Mahal, but the 25-seat cabaret theater at the Tropicana was a great start. Unfortunately with the hotel being sold out, the family ended up sleeping on the concrete stage, waking up early every morning to hand out flyers on the beach and boardwalk. The result was five sold out shows per day for a whole year. When the lease was up for the venue owners, it left the show without a home. But the family didn’t give up. 

Las Vegas seemed like it would be the next logical step and so the family took their savings and moved to the Silver State.

With no showrooms in Las Vegas readily available, corporate events and tours to colleges and local theaters back east seemed to be in the cards for Tommy Wind until a Christmas Eve phone call to his father changed all that. Riccardo, who continued to look for a room for his son, learned that a small, 100 seat room at the Clarion became available, and with a new investor onboard from Tommy’s tour, a deal was signed within a week.

But once the show debuted, the family soon learned that Las Vegas was not like touring small venues or even Atlantic City. After tireless promotion, marketing and pounding the pavement they noticed only a quarter of the room was being filled each night, mostly from free tickets. They realized there was no way they could continue to fund a losing proposition. In their mind it had to be the location.

A phone call from the manager of an exotic car showroom where Tommy performed a corporate event tipped off the family to a theater on the strip that he thought they would be interested in. They took a look at the location, and after one year at the Clarion they moved to what was known as the Boulevard Theatre and where Tommy Wind met his future wife, Stacy. 

Once at the new location, the family started to see their hard work pay off with full crowds every night. But after 10 months, the owners of the Boulevard Theatre decided to move on to other business ventures, leaving the show once again without a home. This time, instead of looking for a new venue, Riccardo made a bold move. He went to the property owners and after weeks of negotiating, the family cut a deal to take on the lease at the 21,000 square-foot building themselves.

The Boulevard Theatre at 3756 Las Vegas Boulevard South was promptly transformed into The Tommy Wind Theater where the family now owns and operates a fully functional theater, event center, showroom and for the past 3.5 years, Myst nightclub. Tommy Riccardo serves as the executive producer and head of entertainment operations, while his wife Arlene is the bar operations manager and producer.

In addition to producing “The Magic of Tommy Wind”, which features members of the entire family including Arlene as the character DJ M-O-M, Stacy as his assistant who gets levitated and sawed in half nightly and even 91-year-old grandfather Poppy as the man who showed Tommy his first magic trick. For the last two years the family has also been producing Evil Dead The Musical, which has a Las Vegas residency at The Tommy Wind Theater.

At any given time you can catch Tommy Wind on stage working on new bits for his show, while Arlene is mixing signature drinks at the bar (she is also the venue’s head mixologist) and Tommy Riccardo is sitting behind his desk working on the next entertainment production or marketing promo.

In the highly competitive Las Vegas entertainment market, working hard and staying busy to keep a show on the Strip is indicative of being successful.

Overall, not too bad for a family that wasn’t supposed to last a month in this town.

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