Toast of Paris
by Penny Levin
ShowBiz Weekly, February 1994
Secrets are an important part of most magical acts. So, it was of great interest that Kevin James "The Toast of Paris," now starring in "Splash '94" in the Versailles Room of the Riviera, said he would share one with ShowBiz.
During a dinner interview at the Riviera's Kristofer's steak house, James, a personable fellow, described his act.
Saying it has the feel of a Beetlejuice film, in other words a living cartoon, James dangled the word secret before us, then went on to discuss the opening part of his act.
The opener finds James assembling a doll that looks like a miniature Charlie Chaplin. The doll goes into a special trunk, and low and behold, it comes to life.
The Chaplin character is none other than James' assistant, Antonio Hoyos, a little person, whose imitation of Chaplin is a showstopper.
Hoyos "Pesters" James throughout the show and the audience begins to catch on that this is not just another magic act, it is also a comedy.
And, now we are getting closer to the secret.
James smiles and says, "Comedy disarms the audience. If they are too busy laughing to worry how it (an illusion) is done, then they will enjoy it more."
He adds, "I like to create bizarre images for people. I want my act to be funny and very original."
The secret? James smiles and says, My job is to come up with weird illusions and bizarre imagery. Antonio's job is to make everything funny.
The secret to the success of the entire act is that the two of us together create a kind of wacked out imagery that is different from most other magical acts.
"I didn't hire Antonio because of his size; I hired him because of his talent. He truly is a gifted classical clown and is a world-class act."
And, there is the secret, says a grinning James. Combining comedy and magic within a bizarre range of sequences while establishing a close rapport with the audience is the secret to the success of the act.
Enjoying his act is something James cares about. He not only wants others to enjoy it, but also wants to get a kick out of developing new ideas to challenge himself.
A large man with red hair and glasses, James is an imposing figure on stage. And when the diminutive Hoyos stands beside him, the visual effect is most unusual.
"The new genre of magic is wacked out and visual," according to James.
"There is always room for something new and unusual," he says when asked if there is a glut of magicians working today in the show business arena.
"It is now tougher for the mediocre magicians to survive," responds James.
No one has ever referred to James as mediocre.
Recently, he was voted the "Parlour Magician of the Year" by the prestigious Magic Castle in Hollywood and starred in the CBS Television special "World's Greatest Magicians at the Magic Castle."
James worked at the famed Crazy Horse in Paris before coming to Las Vegas to join "Splash '94."
The magician was brought to Las Vegas by "Splash" producer Jeff Kutash, who saw James at the Crazy Horse and thought he would be the perfect addition to the award-winning Las Vegas show.
"The Crazy Horse is an amazing place and it was a thrill to work there," James says.
Known for featuring some of the world's most perfectly shaped women, the Crazy Horse also has one of the smallest stages in Europe.
The audience is wrapped around the small stage and is often just three feet away.
The Riviera's showroom is an entirely different situation, says James, who explains that he must adjust his act accordingly.
"You can expand everything here," says James who adds that "Splash" is one of the most progressive shows he has seen.
And, there is obviousiy a much larger audience each night than there was in Paris.
Asked if all people view magic the same, James says there are actually four different types of people who respond to magic acts.
The first is children. "They are the toughest audience because their minds are so open they enjoy and love the magic, but they are also the most able to figure things out. They haven't been bogged down by logic yet."
The second group is scientists who believe nothing is happenstance, and therefore are the easiest to fool because they think everything has to be logical.
The third group is adults that are pragmatic and need to know a secret. "The guy on a date who wants to impress the girlfriend by showing her he knows how the illusion is done is my favorite in this category," James says smiling.
The fourth type of person is a magician's favorite - the individual who is there to be entertained. And, that is just what James hopes to do.