Murray: The Celebrity Magician” at Planet Hollywood is a solid, family-friendly 90 minute magic show. This is a guy who actually did something by sheer talent and craft!
“Celebrity Magician” is a weird thing to call yourself. It’s strange to call yourself a “celebrity” anything. If I were a magician, I would want to be known as a “great” magician or an “amazing” magician more so than a “celebrity” magician. Does Murray Sawchuck, star of “Murray: The Celebrity Magician” at Planet Hollywood, feel like he has something to prove?
Murray leans into it, referring to his celebrity repeatedly during breaks in a routine of mostly close-up magic tricks (card tricks, vanishes, etc.) that would not work in a space larger than his 10-row theater in Planet Hollywood. He talks about his ratings, his number of YouTube views, etc. It’s helpful that he reminds us people like him, justifying the $70 we spent on tickets.
Is he being ironic? Canadian-born Murray, who gained acclaim as a contestant on Season 5 of “America’s Got Talent” and now serves as the resident magic historian on the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars,” doesn’t wear irony well. He’s too earnest.
In earlier shows, Murray billed himself more appealingly as “the Dennis the Menace of Magic.” The messy mop of blonde hair helps that branding – slender and angular in horn-rimmed hipster glasses, he looks like an emo Andy Warhol.
His style of humor favors this moniker better, as well. As much a self-deprecating comedy show as a magic show, Murray excels at crowd interaction, bringing volunteers onstage only to abandon them with a fake exeunt after a trick seemingly goes awry. Murray lets the volunteer sweat for a moment before wandering back onstage with a shrug that says “You’re still here?” He magnanimously returns to offer his jilted volunteer a lovely parting gift – usually something hilariously modest, like a can of beans or unopened pantyhose in one of those plastic eggs – only to finish the trick successfully, revealing the failure to have been a fakeout.
The 90-minute show starts out fast-paced, before settling into a more relaxed groove of slower-burning illusions. Murray is clean and family-friendly, but not for the ADD.
In his initial reality-show appearances, Murray was praised not for his star quality or his humor (though he has both) but for constantly going bigger, with more and more ambitious tricks. That’s a lot of pressure to labor under. We know where that road leads – vanishing the Statue of Liberty on cable TV. For his next trick, he’d have to vanish the entire planet. No wonder Murray went smaller for his Planet Hollywood residency.
Still, you have to keep it fresh. Murray moved from Canada to Las Vegas to “make it” as a magician, and bless him, he made it. He has a residency at a major hotel and casino, a sexy blonde assistant, the whole shebang. He made it; now he has to keep it. “Murray: The Celebrity Magician” feels like a transitional period for the illusionist, as Murray works out his next phase as a performer. Touting yourself as a YouTube star is what you do when you’re out of ideas.
“Celebrity” is such a debased term in the Kardashian era because people get famous just for being famous. They don’t actually do anything. In this way, Murray’s self-applied “Celebrity” billing sells him short. This is a guy who actually did something – come from nothing to renown by sheer talent and craft.
VERDICT: “Murray: The Celebrity Magician” at Planet Hollywood is a solid, family-friendly magic show that could be more – and quite possibly soon will be more. A popular YouTube channel is not a magic trick; celebrity is the real illusion.