Life in Las Vegas can indeed be a circus at times. Happily, this coming weekend, all that three-ring activity and energy will be playing a major role in bettering the care of local children.
Zelzah Shriners of Las Vegas are again delighted to bring to Las Vegas the 68th Annual Zelzah Shrine Circus. This year, the fundraiser will be “Under the Big Top” at the Boulevard Mall at the corner of Twain and Maryland Parkway. Featuring performances such as The Wheel of Death, Aerial trapeze performers, Extreme Motorcycle Mania, High-wire acts, a dog act, Rola-Bola, a comedy act, famous acrobats from China, hilarious Circo Clowns, and much more, there will be three shows daily on October 20, 21, and 22 at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. each day. Lance Burton, who has been bringing magic into the lives of children for more than 30 years, will make a special appearance at 3 p.m. on Friday to introduce the circus to the public.
“The Shriners have 22 hospitals all over the country that treat children free of charge,” says Burton. “No child is ever turned away. I became involved with the organization back when I was performing at the Hacienda where I met Pat Morita, star of the ‘Karate Kid’ movies, who died a few years ago. He had been a Shriner’s kid. He had a defective spine as a youngster and was in a full body cast for a year or more. But the doctors at a Shriner’s hospital corrected it and he went on to live a full, productive life. I’d bring him up on stage to tell his story whenever he was at my show. My late manager, Peter Raveen, was a Shriner and he hooked me up with the charity.
“The 14 years I played the Monte Carlo, I did a fundraiser for the Shriners every year called ‘Lance Burton and Friends.’ I still perform at a Christmas party every year for the Shriner kids in Las Vegas called the Zelzah Shriners. Since there is no Shriners hospital in Las Vegas, we are also raising money for transportation to take children from Las Vegas to the hospital in Los Angeles.”
Although Burton retired from the stage after his engagement at the Monte Carlo ended in 2010, he says that he keeps so busy that there aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything he is doing. The original movie that he co-write and produced, “Billy Topit: Master Magician,” which made its world premiere in 2015, was released on Amazon in July and was given a five-star rating. In 2016, it won the honor of “Best Family Film” at the Wild Rose Film Festival in Des Moines, Iowa. The illusionist says that it be soon be available on other platforms such as iTunes.
“On November 25th and 26th, I’ll be going back to Des Moines to perform at the Des Moines Civic Center in a whole new show called ‘Lance Burton Master Magician and Friends.’ Burton relates. “I’ll be bringing with me performers Michael Goudeau, Fielding West, and Keith West, no relation to Fielding. I’ll be doing some of my favorite magic but this show will have an emphasis on audience participation, comedy magic, and some surprises. My friends and I entertain each other all the time with comedy and magic. Instead of doing it in a restaurant, we’ll be doing it on stage.”
Does this mean that Burton is coming out of retirement? Well, don’t expect to see him back on a Vegas stage anytime soon, unless it’s for a charity event. When he retired, it was because he had been performing consistently for 30 years and had done 15,000 shows. At the Monte Carlo alone, he had performed 5,000 shows to some five million people over 14 years. Feeling that he had done everything he had set out to do, he gave it all up. Still, the truth is that he finds it impossible to walk away from the art itself.
“When it comes to magic, you can never turn that part of the brain off,” he admits. “In ‘Billy Topit,’ I perform a lot of illusions that I created – I came up with most of the magic for the film -- and magic techniques and tricks are part of the plot. For example, there is a car chase -- audiences have come to expect car crashes and big stunts and things like that as in other movies. But in my film, I use magic to make the car disappear as Billy is being chased by the bad guys. It’s one of my favorite moments. Plus, the audience gets to see how it’s done. They get to experience the illusion then go behind the scenes.”
Burton, by the way, was the consultant to the movie “Oz The Great and Powerful” for which he taught magic to the star, James Franco.
So then, what are his plans for the future?
“I might do a sequel to ‘Billy Topit,’” he smiles.
Whatever he decides to do, when it comes to charity and the Shriners, Burton will never be out of the picture.