Fernando Velasco performs a dangerous trick in “Champions of Magic” at Caesars Atlantic City.
Fernando Velasco performs a dangerous trick in “Champions of Magic” at Caesars Atlantic City.|Pamela Raith Photography

‘Champions of Magic’ review: Talented cast conjures a winner at Caesars Atlantic City

The illusion-fest is AyCee’s only offering of its kind scheduled this summer.

Chuck Darrow

Chuck Darrow

Once upon a time, summertime was the right time for magic in Atlantic City. The week before Independence Day historically saw the opening of season-long magic shows—often more than one--featuring such toplining wizards as the slick Mark Kalin & Jinger, Vegas stalwart Lance Burton and the Kabuki-inspired Jeff McBride. And for the past few summers, Tropicana Atlantic City has lured warm-weather visitors with magic shows.

But, as with so many things in the ever-evolving gambling mecca, tastes and casino marketing strategies change. Which means the seven-performance Champions of Magic, which opened last night at Caesars Atlantic City, is the town’s only such offering this summer. Thankfully, it’s a doozy.

Champions of Magic features an international roster of four top-shelf acts, all of which have staked out different corners of the magic universe: Mexico’s Fernando Velasco is primarily an escape artist; American Kayla Drescher handles close-up duties; Brit Alex McAleer is a mentalist; his fellow countrymen, the duo billed as Young & Strange fill in the other, traditional spaces with a heaping helping of goofball comedy on the side. Separately, all four impress with their high degree of technical proficiency. Collectively, they provide a winning, smartly paced family-friendly evening of entertainment.

It’s impossible to say which of the four acts is the “best,” as that is based on personal preferences. Friday night, this audience member most enjoyed McAleer and Drescher. The former turned in a series of mind-boggling feats of predictive mind reading (and some strong comedy shtick), while the latter likewise amazed with her sly manipulations of various objects including, of course, playing cards. She also scored by offering variations on standard bits. For instance, she turned the typical pick-a-card-name-a-card routine upside-down by making her audience volunteer constantly choose the same card from a randomly riffled deck.

And her twist on the old rip-and-repair illusion (also with a ticket-holder) was spot-on.

Not that Velasco and Young & Strange were so much chopped liver. Velasco, the most “old-school” of the performers, ably recreated such illusions as levitation and a recreation of Harry Houdini’s landmark “water torture cell” business.

And Young & Strange, who bookended the proceedings, got things off to a rousing start by conjuring a Lamborghini from thin air, and closed the program with a series of traditional, crowd-pleasing tricks.

Suffice it to say that Atlantic City has lucked out by having Champions of Magic as its sole summertime illusion-fest.

Caesars Atlantic City, Boardwalk at Arkansas Avenue; 4 and 8:30 p.m. today and July 13, 7 p.m. Sunday and July 11; www.ticketmaster.com.

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