For many, the month of March is time to cross your fingers and hope that your favorite college basketball team is one of the 64 teams invited to The Big Dance, the single-elimination tourney from which only one team will emerge as champion of NCAA college hoops. It's called March Madness, and there is nothing quite like it in sport.

For about 1000 magicians, March Madness means something else entirely. It's time to attend Joe Stevens' Big Dance in Las Vegas, a.k.a. the Desert Magic Seminar, for me the best of the big international conventions, with its own loyal following, with incomparable shows and lectures, celebrity-studded parties, late-night card sessions that border on real magic, the 24-hour light show that is Las Vegas, and, ultimately, its own champion from a stellar field of contestants. As if a normal week of such activity were not enough, this year's outing was DMS XX, and, with the best of the past 20 years returning, the affair promised, and delivered, any number of special moments.

I'll depart from my usual "thematic" review and instead provide a chronological string of my impressions.

I arrived in Las Vegas in the morning and, for the first time ever there, rented a car. Wow -- I feel totally empowered. No more waiting for buses or snail-like shuttle rides from the airport. The convention is still two days away.

MOVIE AND MAGIC HALL OF FAME -- Just across the street from Caesar's Palace, this tourist spot had eluded me for years, even though it costs only five dollars with an easily acquired coupon. For this minimal outlay you get a half-hour magic show plus entry to the facility's museum. The show was most interesting as it featured Valentine Vox, a ventriloquist who once appeared on the old tv panel show, To Tell the Truth. They ran a film of this segment, in which Vox provided all the vocal answers, regardless of which contestant was asked the question. He managed to completely stump the panel of Tom Poston (who asked him if he knew Robert Orben), Peggy Cass, Larry Blyden, and Kitty Carlisle. The museum is the real treat, with 20,000 square feet of antique magic apparatus laid out in a sort of wax museum scenic format. At each of the illusion displays, videos were running of famous magicians performing with the apparatus. I particularly enjoyed Willard's rendition of "Metamorphosis."

SPELLBOUND -- A friend and I caught the early Friday evening performance of Spellbound at Harrah's, now featuring Joaquin Ayala. The theater is lovely, and the "Las Vegas seating" (small tables rather than theater seats) was comfortable. Ayala puts on a highly energized and baffling illusion show, with stunning stage decor, that visiting magicians should consider as must-see. He is strikingly good-looking as is his mysterious assistant Lilia. The illusions feature danger and fire, and I especially enjoyed his rendition of "Impaled," with the spike rising from a stack of skulls and ablaze even as it penetrated Lilia's back. Also on the show were juggler Michael Holly (entertaining, but cheapens his act with references to his penis), and a mind boggling acrobatic troupe of two fellows and a girl called Human Design. All the performers signed autographs after the show.

SIEGFRIED AND ROY'S SECRET GARDEN -- The Las Vegas sunshine made for a lovely day in which to take in the new Secret Garden at the Mirage, an expansion of the original dolphin exhibit that now includes many of the large mammals from the show, including the elephant, white lions, and numerous tigers. The dolphin exhibit remains the highlight, and three more babies have been born since my last visit, for a total of four -- Squirt, Peekaboo, Bugsy, and Pablo. (Later during the DMS, Siegfried would host a ladies only tour of the garden.)

Pablo and Mom

SHOWGIRLS OF MAGIC -- Bonnie Saxe's show at the San Remo continues to pack in audiences. The biggest change since last year is that Kevin James has left the show (he is working at Caesar's Magical Empire) and has been replaced by Luna Shemada (the spelling of her name keeps changing on me). Kevin's former partner Antonio Hoyas remains with the show and is quite funny, occasionally hysterically so, in turns as The Great Antoine, Dolly Parton, and Sonny Bono singing along with female impersonator Steve Daly as Cher. Another recent departure is Sophie Evans, and Los Latin Cowboys remain with the show. As last year, the running thread of the show is three quite beautiful girls who perform illusions and other stage magic (esp. the dancing canes) throughout this lively variety revue. Note: I spoke with Kevin James later at the seminar, and he is working with a new partner.

SNOWSTORMS IN CHINA -- Every magic convention seems to produce one trick that gets performed by every magician, and this would prove especially true in the World Challenge Stage Competition, with the ubiquitous offender being "Snowstorm in China." But the real snowstorms started much earlier, in the dealer room, where Mike Close was tirelessly demonstrating Dean Dill's new card trick, "Blizzard." If you're unfamiliar with "Blizzard," the basic effect is that a freely-named card winds up being the only card in a deck of 51 additional blank cards. Unless you were born yesterday, this says deck switch, and my decision on whether to buy the thing depended on how good the switch was. By the time I saw Mike demonstrate it, I knew when the switch had to occur and exactly where it was coming from. It is to Mike's credit, therefore, that he nailed me three times before I could finally catch him doing it. His handling is a bit different from that in the writeup, and it will fool you. I bought the trick. (Mike also demonstrated material from his excellent Workers series. These items and "Blizzard" made him one of the most popular demonstrators of the convention.)

Mike Close "snowing" the crowd with "Blizzard."

MOST ORIGINAL TRICK OF THE CONVENTION -- Early on the first day, as folks were still registering, Sonny Fontana and Kevin James were promoting a young Spanish magician named Anton Lopez. I watched as Lopez had a card selected, in this case a jack of hearts. He performed a brief ambitious card sequence with it, then noted that the jack sort of "looked like" the spectator. The spectator looked more closely at his card and there, where the jack's face should have been, was a perfect color photo of the spectator's face! The card was perfectly smooth and was the spectator's to keep. The commercial value of such an effect, especially in a trade show situation, was immediately apparent. I felt that the convention was off to an excellent start. (The trick was later for sale for $79 on cd-rom and assumed you owned some rather sophisticated computer equipment. The trick was selling well.)

90 MINUTES WITH THE THINKERS -- This 3:00 P.M. event was a panel discussion with some of the columnists on Joe Stevens' GeMiNi network. Hosted by T.A. Waters, it produced some lively discussion, with the initial focus being on Herbert Becker's recent appearance on the Maury Povich show, exposing magic tricks. (A sometimes contributor to GeMiNi, I found myself on this panel, where I had the honor of passing the microphone back and forth between Mike Rogers and Karrell Fox.) In the dealer room, by the way, Mark Stevens manned the GeMiNi booth and signed up numerous magi to this increasingly popular bbs. Its recent migration from a modem-based to internet-based forum should greatly increase its accessibility. As an incentive, the Stevens crew had printed up a most professional booklet of contributions from some of the GeMiNi columnists. (See the ad under "March Madness Shopping Center," in the main section of the magazine.)

20TH ANNIVERSARY ROARING TWENTIES COSTUME PARTY -- These parties occur in a cavernous room with numerous large round tables, hot and cold food offerings, and multiple bars. Music is provided, starting early this evening with a band and ending with Mike Close on piano. Costumes are encouraged, and the Board of Directors' Obie O'Brien, Jay Marshall, Pete Biro, and Bill Wells along with Joe Stevens arrived in colorful zoot suits, looking rather like gangster extras from the Warren Beatty Dick Tracy movie. These guys along with various ladies in flapper dresses set the tone for a pleasant evening in which to renew old friendships. With many returning guests, these conventions take on a reunion atmosphere, and I was delighted that many of my favorite magicians/friends chose to attend this year.

GARY DARWIN'S LAS VEGAS MAGIC CLUB MEETING/ DAN HARLAN LECTURE -- Gary Darwin's magic club has been sponsoring lectures in Las Vegas for years, and this modest extra pay event (only $5) has become an integral part of DMS. Dan Harlan passed out napkins and rubber bands so that the audience could follow along with him. I found this to be impossible, but the results were often quite amusing, especially when audience members held up their napkins to display their success at Dan's "Starcle" effect. Many of these napkin tears looked nothing like stars.

JUAN MAYORAL LECTURE -- I was in Group B this year, which means my first lecture would be by Spain's Juan Mayoral. He asked us to excuse his English, which he learned from cassettes. "Very cheap cassettes," he added for a big laugh. His material was an exciting melange of electronic magic, a nifty rope effect, and a lot of stuff with fire. In the dealer room, Juan worked adjacent to Mike Close. Mike would be in the middle of a "Blizzard" demonstration, and then there would be a huge burst of flame, inches off to his right. Mike would pause and say, "Menopause is such a bitch," or whatever seemed appropriate to the particular blast. It got the laughs but had to be disconcerting, to say the least.

TAMARIZ LECTURE -- Juan Tamariz is one of my favorites from past DMS experiences, and indeed I've enjoyed him most when he was not a featured performer, but was simply one of the late-night session guys. A trick for trick face-off between Juan and Chris Kenner one night stands out especially. In this lecture he both convulsed and confounded the audience with several items, but earned the most attention during a theoretical discussion on how to start with high interest and build from there.

"THE WINNERS" STAGE SHOW -- This show, the contest, and the other big stage shows at the Tropicana are held in the beautiful Tiffany Theatre. This is the room which nightly hosts the Trop's Folies Bergere show, where Lance Burton performed nightly for nine years before branching out on his own. Fortunately, it's available to us in the afternoons, as it was for this 1:00 P.M. event. Following brief messages and shtick by Karrell Fox, Jay Marshall, and Joe Stevens, the emcee duties for the rest of the afternoon were assumed by Tom Mullica. The acts included some of the best of the past winners, specifically Danny Cole (last year's teen winner and recently seen on the Lance Burton special, Jason Byrne (last year's winner), Tina Lenert with her mopman act (perhaps it was because I had a really great seat for a change, but this was the best I've seen Tina do this; I was completely sold on the romance and oblivious to method), Mike Michaels (an award winner with his mechanical man act a few years ago and back with a brand new Jack in the Box act), and the ever-popular mayhem of Kohl and Co. Equally starring on this afternoon's show was Mullica himself, who satirized Lance's underwater escape, who had us howling as his "Tobacco Patch baby" wolfed down cigarette after cigarette, and who finally treated us to Duke, his legendary rabbit puppet we've often seen photos of but which few of us have seen Tom perform. Tom also conducted a joke-off in which he awarded the winner a set of his new videos. Although the prize went for a clean joke about a talking frog, jokes about flatulence, locked bowels, and oral sex touched this audience as well. (Personal note: I was sitting in a spot where I could have told a joke myself, but I don't have that Mike Close expertise at telling stories, and so declined. If you'd like to read the joke I had in mind, turn to "Stirring the Tana Leaves.")

THE ASCANIO CARD SESSION -- Past DMS sessions have featured such legends as Slydini and Ed Marlo, and those who witnessed them carry special memories indeed. This year the legend was Arturo de Ascanio, and his performance was a revelation. I had heard he could do wonders with two cards held as one, but had no idea he had worked out so many techniques. This was truly beautiful magic. Ascanio speaks little English, and he was admirably translated on all occasions by a young man named Alberto Inglesias. The good news for the rest of you, by the way, is that the best of Ascanio's performance and explanations is available on a new video from Joe Stevens.

Ascanio receives award from Siegfried and Roy

NEW YORK NEW YORK -- No city on the planet is in as much flux as Las Vegas. The new hotel New York New York, diagonally across the street from the Tropicana, is worth a visit. It features Geno Munari's Houdini's Magic Shop, where I bumped into Mac King, Mike Caveney, and Tina Lenert on this Monday evening as I was in search of pizza. I found that as well, along with some fine cannoli, as I wound through the various New York-ish restaurants, the rumble of the roller coaster overhead perfectly simulating the rumble of a subway. As someone aptly said, "This is just like Disney World."

THE LATE NIGHT SESSIONS -- There is a quiet area at the far end of the Tropicana's island corridor that is perfectly suited to sitting around and showing each other card tricks. I don't remember which items I saw on which nights, but several items that stood out were Steve Silverman's handlings of the Hofzinser fan force and an instantaneous reverse, a Jon Racherbaumer pile trick, a beautiful discovery by Ramon Rioboo, and a hilarious in-joke version of the slow motion aces as shown to Mike Close by Bob Kohler. My greatest regret is that I didn't have more time, and endless stamina, to sit in on all these sessions.

PAUL GERTNER -- Although I've been in magic forever, this was my first opportunity to see Paul Gertner work live, and it was a major treat. It's easy to see why he does so well in the corporate world. He flat out looks successful, and his magic is flawlessly executed. Of the many items in Steel and Silver and in his videos, Paul performed such pieces as "Paul's Opener," "Unshuffled," "That's Ridiculous," "Photocopy," "Triple Die-lemma," and "The Steel Cups and Balls." He also conducted an in-depth discussion of the classic force. Paul is of course one of the earliest winners of the DMS contests.

LENNART GREEN -- What can I say about Lennart Green? If you've never seen his card handling, you will be completely baffled by his methods. He treated us to a flurry of impossibilities exploiting his Green angle separation, his lateral palm techniques, and so on. Because his stuff is available in print only in disparate small booklets, you're probably better off at the moment investing in his video, Green Magic Volume 1, available from Joe Stevens.

WORLD CHALLENGE STAGE COMPETITION SHOW -- I've long held that, Las Vegas itself notwithstanding, what separates the Desert Magic Seminar from lesser conventions is its annual high stakes contest, with the acts pre-screened to weed out even a hint of mediocrity. What you get then is a contest of the best vs. the best, often featuring remarkably innovative programs. This afternoon's contest -- we're back in the Tiffany Theatre -- reminded me of some of my favorites of years past, with some highly original magic. James Dimmare represented the U.S., with his high-energy act of doves and dance, finishing with his original shrinking dove cage to vanishing dove cage. Yuka represented Japan with a charming act involving fans, the highlight for me being a levitating fan interlude. From China, the act of Qin Ming Xiao featured strong magic from both a female and male magician (both in some really crazy shoes), including a comedic spirit cabinet effect with a spectator. The next four acts impressed me as the most original, and it was most difficult to pick a "best" among them. Vicj (pronounced "vickie," more or less) represented Italy with a comedy act that featured some great self-levitations. In one version, he held up a cloth behind which he floated first vertically, and later horizontally with his female assistant also floating -- a sort of poor man's Lance Burton levitation. In another segment, he came out as an Arab in robe and fez; first the tassle on his fez became erect as he played on a recorder (or some damn instrument!), and then he floated up himself as he continued to play. Enric Magoo represented Spain with a wildly comedic Frankenstein act, playing the monster sort of as the out-of-control Peter Boyle character from Young Frankenstein. The highlight was a lip synch to "Summer Love" from Grease, with Magoo taking the John Travolta part and a talking, floating skull taking the Olivia Newton-John part, three smaller skulls singing the backup chorus part. (I mentioned this act to my son, who has visited Spain a couple of times in recent years. He says the Spanish are absolutely wild over the movie Grease.) Juji Yusuda from North Korea presented a lightning costume change act with two lovely young girls, catching me off guard many times. Finally (in my accounting that is; none of the acts actually appeared in this order), two engaging young guys from Germany, Junge and Junge, presented a shoeshine act, in which one was getting a shine while the other attempted to perpetrate various crimes against him (I told you these acts were original). The background music was from West Side Story. The audience reacted most favorably to the concluding illusion, a twister box on the shinee's head, a so-so effect until the box was shown empty and the head could seemingly be nowhere.

So how did I vote? I should mention that my vote has coincided with the winner on only one occasion that I can recall in past DMS contests. It's a people's choice award, and one can hardly expect "the people" to share my refined taste in magical entertainment. For me it came down to a tossup between Vicj (I've long had an interest in self-levitations) and Magoo (ditto anything involving horror movies). The final decision turned on the fact that Vicj had the most beautiful female assistant of any of the seven acts, and Magoo had Olivia Newton-John's singing; I went with Olivia. Dave Knapp of GeMiNi fame was seated at my table and also voted for Magoo. Perhaps it was the "scientific" aspects of a Frankenstein act that appealed to two physicists.

The various acts, by the way, were introduced by Siegfried, Peter Biro, Mac King (who perpetrated a great gag on Tom Mullica re the previous day's oral sex joke), Fielding West, Karrell Fox, Obie O'Brien, and Mark Wilson. Jay Marshall may have been in there somewhere also -- I was taking notes in the dark.

THE BOB READ SHOW -- For many years I've read of how funny Bob Read is, and I admit to skepticism. I assumed the writers probably went drinking with Read and were merely being kind to him in print. Not so. Bob Read easily provided some of the funniest moments of the convention. Very difficult to describe. He taught us how to produce a bottle, then fooled us all by producing it repeatedly throughout the act/lecture. He did impressions of Vernon, Lennart Green, Slydini, and Tamariz doing the coins through the table. He got guys up from the audience to sing "Gonna Buy a Paper Doll . . ." He taught us why one fake nose and one dog carrier (a screwball device with a handle, a collar, and a corkscrew) was funny and another was not. He did the knife through coat and a card trick in which he stripped. He showed us the Invisible Man doing karate and he stacked four ice cubes a la four dice. And all the while he kept up a hilarious banter with the audience.

CAESAR'S MAGICAL EMPIRE -- For many this was the night to see Siegfried and Roy. I caught them last year, when Caesar's wasn't yet open, so for me it was finally time to descend into some mystical realm beneath Caesar's Palace for an evening of "Mystery, fine dining, reality-defying illusions, and awe-inspiring surroundings." It was all of that and more. The descent is accomplished via a room similar to the initial room of Disney's Haunted Mansion. You then journey through a mist-filled "catacomb maze" to your dining room. The salads are already set out (extensive magic is performed to determine who sits where and who gets what entree). The rest of the meal follows expeditiously, but you don't really feel rushed. One problem with this Caesar's experience is that you share your meal with strangers, and one of the strangers in our party was a jerk. Fortunately, our ancient Roman host, a sort of Nathan Lane character, handled this guy fabulously. Following the meal, you can loll in the seven-story tall Sanctum Secorum, complete with its Lumineria Show and its two special bars. The Grotto Bar features an Invisible Irma-type piano that plays requests (called Invisibella here). In addition to the piano, there are two skeletons shackled to the wall who occasionally awake and sing along (in a British accent). I wanted to see the Max Maven feature at the Spirit Bar, so I walked over to it, where I found Irene Larsen sitting alone. She was soon joined by Milt and Arlene, and I felt I was back at the Magic Castle, but with 40 million or so thrown in for additional special effects. The miniature Maximus Maven, who scowls and performs his miracles in a glass case behind the bar, boasts a repertoire of six different interactive miracles, and I had the fun of witnessing three of them. But on to the shows. Earl Nelson performed in the 75-seat Secret Pagoda Theater, extremely smooth this evening with a "Flurious" coin routine, a ring and rope sequence, a great knots on rope effect, card cutting to four of a kind, a rising card that changes mid-rise, and a visible ambitious card finale. Earl performed standing, with no table. In the 150-seat Sultan's Palace Theater it was Jonathan and Charlotte Pendragon, the first time I've seen them live, with such delightful items as a bird cage vanish with flash paper Origami bird, the Origami box, "Clearly Impossible," the Chinese linking rings, "Interlude," the Leipzig paper tear, and their blindingly fast "Metamorphosis." Jonathan delivers many excellent lines, at once self-deprecatory and deferential to Charlotte, and the audience left not only thrilled at the magic but really liking this couple.

ROGER KLAUSE AND OBIE O'BRIEN OPEN BULL SESSION -- This early morning session allowed anyone to perform for 5 minutes, and most of them shouldn't have. (I miss the past acts such as the guy who threw a live mouse into a blender, or Crazy Paul who ate a Coke can.) Despite a few nice moments by Ramon Rioboo and Jim Krenz, the reason we all patiently sat through these otherwise dismal 16 acts was to see Anton Lopez, from Galicia, Spain, the fellow I mentioned earlier with the your-face-on-the-ambitious-card effect. After all this, he almost didn't perform, as he and Roger and Obie and the translator suddenly conferred over the problem that Anton suffered a severe toothache, and were there any doctors or, better yet, drugs available ("Michael Weber has a full array," Roger quipped). After some long embarrassing moments, it gradually dawned that it was all a gag leading into a restored tooth effect that proved to be quite funny. Anton then created a sensation with a girl from the audience and a live frog ("a prince") that found her queen of hearts, then changed into a larger tree frog that climbed up his jacket, and then concluded, how else, with the girl's face appearing on the card where the queen's should be. A highly entertaining and original act.

SEMINAR AWARDS STAGE SHOW -- The irrepressible Billy McComb opened this show, back in the spacious Tiffany Theatre again, and later received an award for his service, as did 20-year backstage hand Steve Schooler. These highly deserved awards aside, the real treat of the afternoon was the performance by France's Omar Pasha with his black art act. The entire act was framed by an array of red light bulbs, and the black art worked to perfection. I was sitting quite close to the stage and could see nothing suspicious. A black art act is a tough thing to develop: if you could do real magic, what would you do? Omar Pasha's answer to this question earned him the first standing ovation of the convention.

Prior to the announcement of the World Challenge Stage Competition winner, it was announced that Ken Fletcher of Magic Masters would put up $1000 for an Originality Award. In this very tightly contested area, the award went to Junge and Junge. With these talented guys being from Germany, Siegfried and Roy got into the spirit and bumped the award up another $5000, so I think these guy walked away with more loot than the overall winner.

The overall winner was "announced" by a reprise of the act itself, and the winner turned out to be James Dimmare, to an enthusiastic response. Having voted for someone else, what did I think of this? I thought James had three things going for him:

1. He was the only magician "representing the U.S." I'm enough of a cynic to think that exactly the same contest held in North Korea or Spain would have produced different results. This of course is not James's fault and takes nothing away from his fine act. (The only way I could think of to eliminate this bias would be to have two or three acts from the U.S., to spread out the home town vote a little.)

2. He performed a dove act in a tuxedo. When Lance Burton won at FISM at a young age, he more or less defined what a winning act should look like, and James fits that mold. (Drawing comparisons to Lance can also work against you, of course. James suffered minor technical mishaps in both appearances -- he dropped birds. As one astute young lady said, "I've seen Lance perform flawlessly, night after night.") Comedy acts such as Vicj's and Magoo's have an especially difficult time winning in a general magic category. Ah, but how would a lay audience vote?

3. He had the good fortune to perform last. Voters have a short memory and tend to vote for the last act they like. In past DMS's, the contests have transpired on two days, to the disadvantage of performers working the first day. Cutting the field to seven allowed a fairer contest by keeping all the acts fresh in the voters' minds.

In the final analysis, these were seven fine acts, and the concept of "best" is both a highly subjective and virtually irrelevant concept. James Dimmare worked hard, has a great act, and deserves all the success that will come to him.

JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL BASKETBALL GAME -- What the hell is this doing in here? I was staying with a townie friend on this trip who coaches a middle school boys basketball team, and so I sneaked off from the DMS to catch an afternoon game. Cashman, for whom I was cheering, readily defeated Sawyer. If you're looking for a magic tie-in, Cashman is the middle school that Melinda attended, a few years prior to her blossoming into arguably the best-looking performer to ever call herself a magician.

KARRELL FOX'S TEACH-IN SESSION -- You would think that after all the lectures, sessions, and so on, that magicians would be in no mood to sit still for another teach-in session. Not so! This annual mini-lecture series hosted by Karrell Fox has evolved into one of the hottest features of the seminar. The format is that a top pro comes out and teaches a trick, fast!, in less than 5 minutes tops. This year produced the strongest lineup of the convention, with Mike Rogers, Pete Biro, Jon Racherbaumer, Mike Close, Simon Lovell, Tom Mullica, Michael Weber, Mac King, and Paul Gertner. Everyone was great, and I think it will be Michael Weber's rubber band stunt that will get the most play in the bars of America.

SEMINAR FAREWELL MIXER -- The final parties of the evening gave me a last chance to flit from table to table, to meet new people, to say good-bye to friends, and to see what kind of magic was going on. At one table I had the pleasure of meeting Vicj, from Italy. He is an optician by trade and performs his act at various European conventions. He developed his self-levitations from the old U.F. Grant manuscript. (I believe that I grasped that his beautiful assistant is his daughter, and she has been over here for two years.) Vicj was sitting with the dealer Domenico Dante, who had encouraged Joe Stevens to invite him to this convention, and it's great for us that he did. At another table, Lennart Green was having fun fooling and entertaining Richard Kaufman and Stephen Minch. As I arrived, he was performing an impossible royal flush deal from a seemingly shuffled deck, relying, as it turned out, on a superhuman sense of touch and the ability to deal sixths, fifths, etc. Jesus. I'd have liked to have lingered with this group for the rest of the evening, as some significant magic was occurring, but the Lance Burton show was coming up, and I hadn't yet seen his new theater. If they ever get this cloning thing down, a la Michael Keaton's Multiplicity, I'll have a lot better time at magic conventions.

THE LANCE BURTON SHOW -- The billboards for Lance Burton proclaim "Nightly until 2009," and Lance couldn't have asked for a nicer theater in which to spend those years. Spacious, comfortable, elegant -- the new theater at the Monte Carlo is the perfect venue in which to enjoy an act Lance has been perfecting his whole life. Heavily based on his Hacienda show, the new show zips by and is over before you want it to be, with Lance flying off in a convertible. Michael Goudeau's exceedingly funny stint as Lance's juggler has also been tightened -- he's dropped the hilariously messy apple-eating routine -- but his act remains a superb complement to Lance's classic magic. Because of extenuating circumstances, I became attached to a group of magicians who had a prior arrangement to meet with Lance after the show, and so I was privileged to get a closer look at the Lance Burton operation. We were escorted to a pleasant living room where Lance's beautiful executive assistant, Eta-Lyn, made certain everyone was comfortable, had refreshments if desired, etc. (Note to Erika: there was a copy of the Lisa Menna issue of Genii lying on the coffee table.) Lance eventually appeared, looking just a little tired (he had recently gotten over a flu), and made it a point to speak to everyone in the large group. Michael Goudeau also joined the party. I found time in this situation to speak to Enric Magoo, from Spain, who graciously gave me one of his business cards. (I am in "bewildered awe," to borrow a phrase from Four Weddings and a Funeral, of the performers who take the extraordinary trouble to learn our language, and who can make these trips and share their experiences and wisdom with us.) As the group broke up, Eta-Lyn sent everyone away with the new Monte Carlo/Lance Burton full-color program.

They say that if you are unlucky at cards, you will be lucky at love. Not so. The machines, unlike last year, were anything but kind to me. It is now much later, at 2:30 in the morning, and I'm still at the Monte Carlo, strolling through the endless casino with Karrell Fox. A pretty lady approaches us and asks, "Didn't you used to be Milky the Clown, on television?" Karrell happily owns up to this accusation. "For 15 years, back in Detroit." The lady is a blackjack dealer, and some of her players have tipped her off as to Karrell's identity. "Do you still have any tricks up your sleeve?" she asks. Karrell politely demurs. And so I think: here it is in the middle of the night, in Las Vegas, and a pretty young woman has approached us, and it's Karrell Fox who is getting hit on, not me. Ah, fate.

I usually thank a bunch of folks at the end of this, but with this being the 20th edition of the Desert Magic Seminar, it's fitting for the entire thanks this year to go to Joe Stevens. I observed Joe more closely than usual this year and noticed how much work he has to do. It then occurred to me that Joe Stevens has not, in the past 20 years, had the luxury of simply attending a Desert Magic Seminar. Although his position has allowed him to hobnob with the seminar's elite guests and co-sponsors, time does not allow him to hang out at the card sessions, where some of the real miracles occur, or to just visit after hours with the teenagers who have started coming to these affairs. Their energy is infectious. Of course, each of us experiences a different convention, and so instead of one Desert Magic Seminar each year there are really about a thousand. For my part, I thank Joe for the ones I've attended, and I wish him and all the rest of us many more.

Return to The Little Egypt Gazette.

Copyright© 1997 by Steve Bryant