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The Bad Boys of Magic
Penn and Teller
Rio ALL-suite hotel and casino
Review by Andy Walmsley
Penn Jillette and shorter less audible partner Raymond Teller First teamed up in 1975 and 35 years later are still going strong on stage in their seven year old Las Vegas show.
A special mention must go to the Theater at the Rio which is one of the best traditional ‘Broadway‘ style theaters in town, the Lobby alone gives the impression you are about to walk in to the Met.
I first saw the show six years ago and to be honest didn’t love it, but upon a second viewing I have changed my opinion, I really like this show.
In a town swamped with live shows it’s quite a claim to say there is nothing else like this on the Vegas smorgasbord of entertainment but it truly is a unique experience. Visitors to Vegas are bombarded with music accompanying everything they experience be it a ride in the elevator or Bon Jovi track screaming out of a plastic rock at the base of a palm tree. The shows in town employ music of all styles and volumes so it is a refreshing change to hear much of the Penn and Teller show as silent as an Agatha Christie play with the audience hanging on to the carefully crafted words of Penn. There is music of course be it the live piano musak that accompanies the audience as they find their seats pre show or a couple of great moments in the show where Penn plays double bass and teller Vibraphone but this show more than most in town depends on the spoken word to not only tell the story but also acting as a misdirection device to beautifully complicate what are in some cases simple ( but expertly performed ) sleights of hand. I love that much of the show is spoken word because it makes the audience pay attention and work for their entertainment unlike 90% of Vegas shows that wash over you like some kind of drug induced trip. Most of the illusions, tricks, bits really do depend heavily on the spoken word and that is a fantastic element to this show, nothing is by chance and I suspect the words are duplicated verbatim every evening but not because Penn is too lazy to ad lib more because the pair have spent many years homing the subtle dialogue into thought provoking, intelligent and of course funny spiel. It did make me wonder how the show has done so well and for so long when the content of the show is not ideally placed for our non English speaking visitors who of course flock to Cirque and other non verbal shows.
If I have one criticism of this show it is the quality of the audio, yes I know it’s a pet peeve of every Joe Schmo to bitch about the sound, but in a show that is so heavy on dialogue delivered by a man with a deep voice I found the quality to be a little muddy.
The wordy routines are perfectly balanced with non speaking musical moments for example Penn’s seasoned Fire eating seduction routine with a sexy assistant and Tellers beautiful rose shadow art.
P and T to some degree made their name revealing the methods used by other magicians who they apparently despised, of course in truth they are friends with and greatly respected by the magic community but not to disappoint their fans there are several routines in the show where they let us the audience ‘in‘ on the trick notably a classic cup and ball routine but utilizing clear cups and a great sleight of hand cigarette routine performed by Teller, no disrespect to Tellers great craftsmanship but I was most impressed in this routine by Penn who was playing double bass at one tempo and reciting dialogue at another tempo. I felt smart that I had noted this until Penn later announced the feat to the audience and stole my private moment of smugness.
There was a great floating ball routine performed by teller introduced by Penn who nonchalantly mentioned that the effect was done with threads as he walked off stage… I loved that he literally told the audience how it was done but it didn’t degrade the effect or the reaction from the crowd one bit.
I think my favorite part of the show was a routine with an American Flag, it was perfectly, respectfully performed by both men and illustrates the importance of the dialogue to this partnership with one mute performer and it’s an interesting element to the success of the pair that despite Penn’s single handed delivery of all spoken word the double act never feels that it is skewed towards Penn because tellers non verbal at times bordering on mime artist delivery counterbalances perfectly and you are left with a perfectly balanced double act with neither performer upstaging the other.
The show ends not with a splashy Vegas big finish but an edge of the seat Bullet routine where the shows scenery portals fly out one by one literally stripping the stage bare revealing the backstage area and the props and illusions in their upstage storage positions and this moment like every moment in the show is a conscious decision to deliver a sub conscious message to the audience that we are striping away the glamour and gloss of all magic shows you have seen before and delivering essentially the same great illusions and methods but presented in a unique way that Penn and teller have become famous for.