Watch Mat Franco closely at The Linq
Onstage he pops out as if right through the video-screen intro enumerating the highlights of his life, boyish but mischievous, flashing a crocked smile—a modern-day Beaver Cleaver with just a touch of Eddie Haskell.
Had he been a magician, devilish little Eddie would have done what Mat Franco just did—turn an audience member’s $100 bill into a $1 currency. What Eddie wouldn’t do is make it reappear—the missing zeroes restored--in a flavor packet from a bag of Ramen noodles.
That’s The Beave in Franco.
“I’m just a more outgoing version of myself up there,” says 28-year-old Franco, the ninth-season America’s Got Talent winner, now performing a resident Las Vegas show. “I embrace the audience.”
Various magicians rely on grandiosity to wow fans. Franco opts for intimacy to charm them. Among all the playing cards he spreads around during a show, playfulness is his ace. “You’re in the first row and you’re looking at me on the screen?” he gently teases a guest. “C’mon, I’m right here.”
Clad simply in black jeans, blue T-shirt and black leather jacket at a recent show, Franco shuffled up-close magic with impish humor to draw the crowd in—and some members of it up on stage (watch him chest-bump volunteers). So schmoozy is his shtick that you half-expect him to slip onto your lap for a chummy chat. “I’m comin’ in!!” he announces before wading in.
“I’m someone you’re just hanging out with while the show is happening,” he says. “I like that relatability, that’s what I don’t see in a lot of magic, what feels organic. I don’t have supernatural abilities and I don’t want to fool anyone into thinking I do. With magic I’m an honest liar. I tell you I’m going to lie to you and then I do.”
Magic is based on a performance form of fibbing—the essence of illusions. Franco’s is mostly smaller scale and shot through with comedy—disappearing cards reappear in a man’s groin and a woman’s cleavage, a clever coin trick tweaks the notion of psychics, cards take a licking in a “sleight of tongue” gag and transform into streamers in another, and a cell phone turns up inside a table. Yet the effect is big.
“I like giving the illusion of scale as opposed to scale in the traditional sense,” Franco says. “I have no desire to pull down a curtain and have a helicopter be there. But I’ve had a human deck of cards with 52 people on stage. I do teleportation where I appear in the audience but it’s disguised as an up-close trick so you don’t see it coming. For me there has to be a degree of imagination or cleverness as opposed to just having a box. We’ve all seen those boxes.”
Then, wait for it—the finale that more than justifies the show’s Magic Reinvented Nightly tagline, in which Franco manages to recap the entire show through a deck of cards. By the time the “card cannon” is rolled out, literally showering us in aces, spades, hearts and diamonds, we’ve been properly dazzled, minus lions, tigers, copters or cars.
Still, this show really spins on the boy-next-door seductions of its likable star, who shares himself unstintingly with the crowd (aided by sweet home video of him with family and friends). With an abundance of charming guile behind the guileless smile, an elastic, expressive face, an endless supply of who-me? shrugs and eyes that seem set in a permanent crinkle, he’s a Pied Piper of Prestidigitation.
He delights in what he does. And we delight in him.
The Linq Hotel, 7 p.m. Sun.-Tues. & Thurs.-Fri., 4 & 7 p.m. Sat., $39-$99 VIP plus tax and fee. 702.777.2782