By Bobbie Katz
Following 31 years of performing and 15,000 career shows, Lance Burton retired after closing his 14-year run at the Monte Carlo Resort in 2010. But now, he’s back with something entirely new up his sleeve. And here’s the trick: On September 24, 2015, when the master magician is ready to unveil to the public his latest “now you see it,” you will be sitting in the Brendan Theater at the Palms viewing what Burton hopes, for him, will create a new kind of magic – movie magic.
Billy Topit Master Magician, produced and directed by Burton with screenplay by Burton and Michael Goudeau (both also share an executive producer credit) took five years from concept to theatrical release and has been Burton’a labor of love since leaving the Monte Carlo. The inspiration for the movie goes back to his childhood.
“When I was 13, I saw Bill Bixby in a TV series called The Magician,” Burton, who plays Topit in the movie, recals Burton. "I loved that show. The lead character was a magician and he got to do amazing things like fight crime and solve mysteries using magic tools to do it. Through the years there have been many films and TV shows with magician characters and some were quite good. I just felt that I could bring something to the table that was genuine, something based in reality. I didn’t want to do the stereotypical mysterious magician character. That’s why Billy Topit is a struggling magician, even though he is very skilled.
“In the 1980s, when I was performing in the ‘Folies Bergere’ at the Tropicana, I was cast in a reprisal of the TV series Knightrider,” he continues. “I played the villain, an evil magician assassin, who, as a part of the plot, used his magic skills. Coincidentally, the man who was the magic advisor to the show was Mark Wilson, who was a very famous magician at the time. I was a big fan of Mark’s. He provided all the illusions and props and we became friends on the set. We spent a lot of time together. One day, he asked me how I like doing this work and I told him that I was having a blast. He told me that I should think about doing more of it. He planted the seed in my mind. For years, I kept notes on ideas with the intent of creating a narrative with a magician character in a TV or movie.”
In 2009, Burton, who himself would later become a magic consultant for the 2013 movie Oz the Great and Powerful starring James Franco, came up with the idea for a comedy and finally decided to write a script. The first thing he did was call his friend Michael Goudeau, juggler and Emmy Award-winning writer who had worked for years on Penn & Teller’s Bullshit TV series. He invited Michael to his house and over a pizza, the two started throwing around ideas and came up with a main character, a plot, and started writing a script for the movie.
“That first night, Michael said if we were going to write a movie, it needed to be family-friendly,” Burton remembers. “He had small children at the time and every time a movie of that nature came out, he had to see it. He found most of them to be awful and said to me, ‘Let’s create a good one so I won’t be in agony.’ I wasn’t married to any particular genre. I just wanted a character that used magic skills. Out of our collaboration came Billy Topit, a struggling magician who gets into all sorts of trouble.”
The cast of Billy Topit is full of many of Lance’s friends, most of which are magicians, jugglers, and comedians, as well as actors. Among the names are Michael Goudeau, Michael Holly, Russ Merlin, Fielding West, Johnny Thompson (The Great Tomsoni) and his wife, Pamela Haynes, and Will Silva.
Louie Anderson, Mac King, Robin Leach, and, Criss Angel, all make cameo appearances. “When my dear friend Lance asked me to make a cameo in his movie Billy Topit Master Magician, I was honored” says Criss. “When I heard my scene was a twisted nightmare - I thought, ‘Perfect - I'm right at home.’.”
“The plot of the movie revolves around the fact that Billy is a magician who performs at children’s birthday parties,” Burton explains. “He is excellent at performing magic but is not very successful. He makes the woman of his dreams – a waitress in a local casino coffee shop where he and his friends hang out at night after their shows – his assistant. But the mob is trying to make Billy disappear because they spotted him playing poker in the poker room of a casino with some bad guys (played by Frankie Scinta, Jeff McBride and Rory Johnston) and saw cheating going on. So they come after Billy for money. Billy uses his magic skills to avoid a confrontation for as long as possible but then he has to call on his entertainer friends, all who have special skills, to help stage a rescue. They’re not the A-team – they’re not even the B-team – but they’re all he’s got.
“The part about the coffee shop is based on our lives when Michael and I were in the ‘Folies,’” he continues. “We used to go to the Klondike on the Strip for a 99-cent breakfast every night after the show. Back then, it was the after-hours showbiz hangout.”
At this writing, Burton is down to the wire on the project and says that he just wants to make it the best product that it can possible be. As for what will follow, he admits that he has no plan and is making it up as he goes. Still, there is no denying the importance of this new venture for him.
“This is a family friendly movie that I hope will connect with people all over the world. It is a love letter to Las Vegas. When I am no longer around, I hope Billy Topit will still be inspiring people to visit our city. I am also honored to be able to donate all of the funds raised by the World Premiere and Limited Engagement run at Brenden Theaters to three charities close to my heart, Variety The Children’s Charity of Southern Nevada, Las Vegas Shriners and Nevada SPCA. I hope to spread a little magic around the world with “Billy Topit Master Magician” and here at home.”
Tickets to the World Premiere of Billy Topit Master Magician are $25 and are available at VarietySN.org. Red Carpet arrivals at 4 P.M; curtain speech and welcome by Lance Burton and cast at 5:30 P.M,.movie at 6 P.M.
This article appears by courtesy of Vegas Insider Daily.com.