By Marla Santos
Things definitely became hectic at the Riviera Hotel and Casino before the grand opening of the new “Wild Illusions” show with magician and illusionist, Dirk Arthur. It became quite a challenge to simply get the elaborate props needed for all the illusions up into the casino’s Starlite Theater. They literally had to lift the roof to accommodate bringing in the real, 26-foot-long helicopter that Dirk magically makes appear nightly.
Arthur has enjoyed performing and delighting audiences for 25 years. He is the first magician in history to make a helicopter appear out of nowhere, right on the edge of the stage next to the audience. Other magicians use the illusion now, but it’s said that no one can perform it as well as Arthur. He performs all of his signature illusions and more at his new show, “Wild Illusions” in Las Vegas – from levitating a car, to escaping from a straightjacket, turning a girl into a tiger, as well as his hilarious and well-performed tricks with an incredible variety of exotic cats, doves, a chicken and a duck.
The show is interwoven with comedy, beautiful dancers and large-scale effects, like a huge chrome ball that Arthur puts a beautiful girl into, pierces the ball with 5 or 6 fire sticks and then, when he withdraws them, out comes a snow leopard.
When the big cats and birds aren’t on stage, Arthur performs other mind-blowing illusions. His levitation of a full-size car into mid-air was jaw-dropping, especially when he and his assistant passed hoops around it, covered it with cloth, and then made it disappear right before our eyes.
I loved the “dancing scarves”, where Arthur made a simple white piece of cloth seem to come alive. He makes the scarf dance, hop in and out of glass containers, and go to sleep. Then he adds another white piece of cloth, presumably a female dancing scarf. The two scarves dance together and then pop into the container together and, just like magic, they create a baby scarf. This was done beautifully.
Like most magicians, Arthur was given a magic set as a kid, and from then on, he was hooked. He first began performing illusions by working with pigeons, doves and sometimes Ostriches and Emus. It was when legendary Vegas illusionists, Siegfried and Roy, were gaining popularity with their lions and tigers, that Arthur decided he would try the same. He put his first lion cub into the act when he was 21 and then added Diamond (an African black panther), a blue-eyed white Bengal tiger named TJ, and Oscar, a spotted leopard. His snow leopard named Putin is the only animal of its kind being used in a ticketed show anywhere in the world. Arthur’s former Russian girlfriend gave Putin his name, after the Russian president, but that was before Putin and the U.S. became adversaries.
Hardly a stranger to Vegas, Dirk has performed his magic extensively in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Back in 1997 he began his first run on the Las Vegas Strip, starring in “Jubilee” at Bally’s. He also headlined his own magic show “The New Art of Magic” at the Silverton Casino, “Xtreme Magic” at Tropicana, and “Wild Magic” at O’Shea’s. When O’Sheas shut down in April 2012, so did Arthur’s show.
Arthur has had a multitude of television appearances on shows like NBC’s “World Greatest Magic”, “The Late Show with David Letterman”, and his own primetime special, “Big Cat Magic”, on Animal Planet. The “Big Cat Magic” special was an in-depth documentary on the big cats used in his show, with behind-the-scenes footage following the training, conservation and breeding of the show cats.
“Wild Illusions” is the only show in Las Vegas to use exotic cats on stage in the last few years—not just in Las Vegas, but anywhere.
Siegfried and Roy were the first illusionists to make exotic cats a large part of their magic show—hailing the wild felines as even the “stars of the show” that ran in Vegas over 13 years. It was one night in 2003 that brought an end to their successful run, as the 380-pound white tiger named Montecore almost killed Roy Horn, when the tiger grabbed Roy by the throat during a performance. Roy has said that the tiger was dragging him to safety, because he sensed that he (Roy) was having a mini-stroke – but animal experts have disputed that theory. Seriously injured, Roy was left paralyzed from the attack and the show had to be canceled permanently. Rick Thomas, another Vegas magician, had performed with large cats until he retired them two years ago to Keepers of the Wild in Arizona, an incredible non-profit organization that takes in showbiz wild cats, gives them proper care, and allows the public to see these incredible animals up close.
Magic acts that use large cats are becoming extremely rare, due to laws regarding the maintenance and transportation of show animals. Taking care of these wild, exotic cats is a full-time job. There are strict regulations to follow, and it has become even more difficult to comply with the newly updated safety regulations that have been put in place since Roy Horn’s incident, not to mention the high cost of insurance that is mandated.
Dirk Arthur has a huge family of performing exotic cats, including white striped Bengal tigers, orange Bengal tigers, black panthers, snow leopards, ligers and a bobcat. The rarest of them all is the pure-white snow tiger. He is one of the few left in existence. There are none in the wild. Of the fourteen cats Arthur owns, he selects six to eight of them daily to appear in his production. He makes the cats “appear out of nowhere and disappear instantly.” They are connected to a segment of aircraft cable to keep them from ever being able to move off the stage.
Arthur’s exotic cats were raised and handled personally by Arthur himself, and all of the cats used in his show were born in captivity, meaning that the limited numbers of cats remaining in the wild were not affected. Arthur has his own endangered species breeding program. He hopes that one day he can assist in re-populating these very rare creatures into their natural environments. For now, all of his exotic cats are under strict veterinary care, and lead healthy, happy, and productive lives, while receiving abundant exercise, including running, playing and swimming.
A leading advocate for preserving endangered species, Arthur is dedicated to the preservation of wildlife through education, entertainment and breeding. He plans on using his stage show to educate students in Vegas about the cats used in his act—all of which are endangered species. “We are going to start going to various schools and providing seminars. We have a new baby snow leopard, and he’s going to be our Good-Will Ambassador.” One-hundred percent of the proceeds from merchandise sales at his show will be donated to various animal care and conservation programs, animal sanctuaries, and developing educational programs in schools to create awareness about endangered animal preservation.
Siegfried and Roy are the names everyone who’s over 18 remembers, because they made their magic with the large animals famous over the years, and that becomes huge shoes for another magician to fill. Now, Arthur has the magic and the rare exotic cats, and he may be on the brink of filling the void that was left behind by Siegfried and Roy over ten years ago.
“Dirk Arthur’s - Wild Illusions” is for everyone that loves magic, animals and gets a thrill when they see a wild creature so unbelievably unique walk out onstage (so incredibly close, you can hardly believe it). Children over the age of five are welcome, and an adult must accompany children under the age of 15. The show runs about 75 minutes.
“Dirk Arthur’s - Wild Illusions” at the Riviera Hotel & Casino
Saturday-Thursday 7 p.m. (dark Fri.) 800-634-3420
Look for Dirk Arthur to appear again in our April issue – as we sit down with him for a heartfelt interview, where he shares his experiences in caring for his exotic cats, the enormous expense, and his remote habitat near Las Vegas where the cats run, swim and play. The white Bengal tigers and snow tigers are one of the earth’s most striking and noteworthy species. It is that very fact which helps him to continue his efforts to educate others about these incredible endangered species, as he strives to increase public awareness.