What would any respectable magic show be without a levitation, a woman being sawed in half or a metamorphosis? Of course, you have to toss in a few appearances and disappearances, and some in-audience close-up manipulation.
This array of illusions can describe a multitude of magic shows in the past century, especially as the entertainment form increasingly became a staple in casino showrooms and even on Broadway.
What invariably sets one magic show apart from the other are the magicians themselves and the variations on the forms that can often lead to genuine surprises.
For instance, Rob Lake, star of “The Magic of Rob Lake” at Harrah’s Tahoe through Sept. 4, takes the Houdini chestnut of a metamorphosis, usually performed with a magician supposedly locked in a trunk appearing quickly on top of it as a cloth is raised and dropped, and performs it with people from the audience right there, indeed lifting and dropping the cloth.
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And so it is throughout. Lake, who has spent much of his career helping hundreds of “Beauty and the Beast” casts perform their magic, has this show to his own, the result of a long history of development.
He still needs to find his natural grace on stage, to get a little looser in presentation, but he’s getting there, and audiences are spared any long build-ups to illusions, ending up liking him very much indeed.
He establishes his uniqueness immediately, a series of women suddenly appearing in boxes clearly established as being empty. OK, a hoary concept, but all seeming new when they pop up in poses projected on screens on the boxes, including one with legs and torso clearly separated. The woman sawed in half is done so as an homage to P.T. Selbit, the English magician who first performed the illusion on stage in 1921. A wonderful sequence including multicolored sands and a globe of water hearkens back to ancient Egypt.
To make the show even more enjoyable, the audience is engaged whenever possible. A small boy is brought up to be presented a magic coloring book (no surprise they are on sale in the lobby). A beach ball is tossed around the audience with each catcher calling out a number, in a sequence then shown on a pre-printed lottery ticket. Where, with some entertainers, audience members are reluctant to join in, here they seem eager, but Lake wisely does not overwork the concept. He is the magician. He is not just filling time.
“The Magic of Rob Lake” is no small summer fill-in show, put together only to occupy space and serve the family trade while the big names appear in the Harveys Amphitheater across the highway. It is a large production, taking up four semis to transport and 20 people to stage, and it holds its own as a show worth planning a trip to see, the venerable South Shore Room providing a perfect-size venue. (8 p.m. through Sept. 4 with some sporadic dark nights; $41.95 adults, $26.95 children 5-12; full schedule and tickets at Ticketmaster)