Contributor: Jamy Ian Swiss
In thinking about inexplicable mysteries of magic that might warrant attempts at explication to the public, it occurred to me recently that a worthy topic might be the phenomenon of Siegfried & Roy. For people who don’t get it, or don’t know much about it … well, how exactly does one go about trying to explain Siegfried & Roy?
It’s difficult for most people outside of Las Vegas and the world of magic to fully understand the tremendous impact that Siegfried & Roy had on that showbiz city. They were the first magic act to headline their own show on a Vegas marquee, and they hold the all-time box office record for a single attraction in Las Vegas. At the Mirage, their final performance residence from 1989 until 2003, through much of their run they did two shows a night, six nights a week, grossing hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales at that venue alone. Yes, that’s hundreds of millions.
Back in the nightclub era, live acts became superstars, and then performed in Las Vegas—headliners like Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack, Liberace, Wayne Newton, Tom Jones, Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles and more, names known the country and the world over. As show business changed, and night clubs and cabarets became (with the exception of comedy clubs) a thing of the past, Vegas headliners often developed within Las Vegas itself, perhaps jumping from cruise ships (another isolated performance circuit) without being known elsewhere. Siegfried & Roy rarely toured nationally, and did little television, and so through much of their career, as legendary as they were in Vegas, they remained almost unknown to a lot of the general public, often serving as little more than the punch line to a joke, until much later in their career when their fame finally broke at least somewhat beyond the Vegas city limits.
But their impact cannot be exaggerated. They made Las Vegas into a destination city for magic. At its height, Las Vegas featured headline magic shows that included Siegfried & Roy, Penn & Teller, Lance Burton, David Copperfield, and countless other magic acts featured in smaller stand-alone shows, and performing feature spots in legendary revues like Jubilee and Spellbound.
About Jamy Ian Swiss
An acclaimed master of the challenging art of sleight of hand, Jamy Ian Swiss has performed magic throughout the United States for presenters ranging from Fortune 500 companies to the Smithsonian Institution. He has lectured to magicians in 13 countries and made numerous television appearances in the United States, Europe and Japan, including U.S. appearances on CBS 48 Hours, PBS Nova and the PBS documentary The Art of Magic, and Comedy Central. (more)