Jan Rouven keeps audiences guessing at the Tropicana
Las Vegas has had many masters of illusion, but there’s been a conspicuous void on the Strip since Siegfried and Roy’s show ended in 2003. Germany’s Jan Rouven, who first saw his fellow countrymen in Vegas at age 16, has been helping fill that void since moving his Illusions show from the Riviera to the Tropicana in November. The emphasis is on spectacle and showmanship as Rouven makes death-defying escapes, appears to telepathically transport himself and survives impalement by industrial drill before mingling with astonished audiences for up to an hour after the curtains close.
How long do you stay after the show to meet and greet fans?
At least 45 minutes, usually between 45 minutes and an hour. People really like it. If you saw, I take my time with everybody.
Have you always done that throughout your career?
Yeah, pretty much always, even when I worked at theme parks. That’s how I started. I always would be there when the people leave. Lance Burton did that. Not until the end, but he used to meet people in that magic store. Nowadays, because it’s a competitive market, you have to be like that. That’s the last impression people have, and it fits the impressions people get of me from the stage. It adds to that personal feeling. Those people, when they come again next year and they want to see a magic show, they’ll come to my show.
What’s the most common thing they ask you?
They ask how long I live here, where I live and how I live, and how living is in Vegas.
Sometimes it seems as if you’re two places at once. Do they ever ask you if you have a twin?
No (laughs). They never ask that. They are pretty much convinced that I don’t have a twin.
You just passed the six-month mark since your show started. How would you characterize the experience so far?
In the beginning I was concerned at first, because the Riviera has 540 seats and this has 1,060 seats. Double the seats. I saw all those red seats and I dreamed about them in my sleep. “Oh my God, I’ve got to fill all those red chairs!” But it is a better location. They have different people. More people from the hotel come, because the way the rooms at the Riviera were marketed, people stayed there but they didn’t stay there during the day or for activities versus here. There is a nice pool, a spa. There are more things to do. It’s more of a resort, so more people from the hotel come to the show. We have more customers. We have more audience, but the show is more expensive.
Has the show changed or been refined much since opening night?
Yeah, we changed things. Transitions. If transitions and exits are too long, the audience sometimes goes away. When there was one little boring moment it took the people down so much because it wasn’t that nice living room atmosphere of the Riviera. This is a big theater so you have to keep the people focused. So we changed transitions, changed the opening. There were safety issues with our carnival ride, so we got a smaller one. Have you seen the first shows? The show runs smoother now.
That’s the purpose of the dancers being there, right? To help out with the transitions?
Yes, and to give it a modern and different touch. It’s more of a production show, and that’s what the hotel owner wanted. He wanted that production on that large stage.
It’s kind of rare for magicians to have dancers on stage with them, right?
Yeah. Lance Burton had dancers, and we are a little bit filling that gap he left—the family magic production show. He had that as well, and maybe in Europe it’s more common than in Las Vegas.
It gives it a European feel for sure.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. That’s why we kept it. I would feel a little bit lost on that stage without dancers. You can use them in many ways.
But those transitions are really about split-second timing, is that what you were saying?
Exactly, then we have eight crewmembers and dancers, and technicians for light and sound. Fifteen people have to work hand in hand. It can’t be perfect the first night.
Which illusions have audiences responded to most enthusiastically?
It’s definitely Siegfried and Roy’s Origami. They like that and they like the water tank escape, probably because not so many magicians do it. And the Drill of Death. The kids like that. It’s a big, huge, impressive machine. But when you ask people what are their favorites, every act gets mentioned. Every act counts. If there would be an act no one mentions, we would change it.
You mean when you’re talking to people after the show.
Yeah. If there was one act they never mentioned we could certainly replace it. So we do marketing after the show (laughs).
So you’re not just catering to the fans. You’re getting feedback.
Exactly! Feedback, how they feel, when they bought their tickets. It’s feedback from the customer, direct. It’s important.
Do you have a personal favorite you like to perform?
Levitation. I like the levitation scene with the dance. Music has been written for this to match the dance part of it. That’s a nice scene. It has everything in it, and it’s one of my favorites.
A good story seems to help elevate an illusion. Is that a direction you want to continue to go in?
Yeah, one you missed yesterday because I had to cut it. At the end I have a nice, poetic spoken piece called “Puzzle of Life.” We had a technical problem and I had to cut it. We’ve only had to do it two times since we started the production, but it’s an add-on so we can do that. It has a story. I like stories. I’d like to bring more into the show.
Is the show as it exists now anything like you first envisioned when you first aspired to be a Strip headliner?
Yeah, it went in that direction. Of course we work with a choreographer and a designer and a creative director, so you get lots of different influences. Other people have the show more in their head when we rehearse than me. They know what it looks like because they envision it, the whole technical thing. The light designer, he sees already the light design he will create. I know the act, but the creative director sees the whole show more than me in advance.
I know you made your first trip here, but how old were you when you first aspired to be in Vegas?
Mid-20s. That’s when I said, “You should be able to do something here.”
So you weren’t thinking about it earlier in life?
Yeah, it was always a dream, but at 25 was the first time I thought I could work here because I had some experiences in Europe and I thought it could happen.
Do you recall your first escape when you were an aspiring illusionist?
Out of a postbag, a mailbag.
Did you perform this in front of people?
Yes, I was in a carnival group. Like what you have at Halloween we have in February, and every city has a group. They had an event, and I performed that trick and got some experience performing in front of people.
Was it the escape itself that got you hooked or was it the reaction of the audience?
The reaction of the audience. Always
What do you remember about seeing Siegfried and Roy at the Mirage at age 16?
That was like a dream coming true, and larger than life. It was like the best highlight so far. When I first saw the show I was speechless.
You’re friends with them now, right? You and Frank [Alfter, Rouven’s manager/producer]?
Yeah, Frank always was friends with them.
Didn’t they give you an illusion?
Oh, so you have their blessing to use that.
Yeah, I asked them. In the show I say they wouldn’t let me have a tiger, so they gave me this.
There’s something about that act that’s really appealing.
Yeah, people love it. It’s so up close. Siegfried came to stage it.
It’s effective because it’s so simple, coming after bigger, more complicated illusions.
Yes, and people love it. Siegfried came and directed it in the beginning, and we performed it to music. Then he came again and said, “Mmm, you have to make it your own. Tell the audience how you saw it in our show.” Then he came up with that punchline: “I saw it so many times in their show and I still don’t know how they did it.” It was a process.
Do you always know when Siegfried or other magicians come to your shows?
Usually, the good ones tell me when they come. The ones I don’t like, they come without me knowing.
What was your first performance like in Las Vegas, on Fremont Street?
That was October ’09.
Do you remember which illusions you performed?
It was the drill. It was the water tank. These were the only things in that show on Fremont Street.
You filmed in Vegas for European television before, but weren’t you filming for television right before Illusions started at the Tropicana?
That movie is being completed right now, and they just were there last week and filmed. It’s a documentary movie about magic in Las Vegas.
So this is going to be a theatrical movie?
Yes, in America. It will be in Europe. It will be all over. It’s called Where the Magic Happens. You can Google it. It was a Kickstarter project.
Did they follow you around Vegas or film you at the theater?
They followed us for three or four years. Every now and then, but really following us with the camera.
Now they have a narrative arc that includes you going to the Tropicana.
That’s the end of the movie.
Do you have any new illusions in development?
For the first six months we had so much to tweak. Now it’s time to do that. There will be new ones, for sure. There’s always new.
Tropicana, 6 p.m. Wed.-Mon., $59-$99 plus tax and fee, children 5 and under free with adult ticket purchase (one child per adult). 800.829.9034