By Bobbie Katz

Jarrett & Raja: Raising the Roof with Magic, Music, and Mirth

A family magic show may sound like it’s a little off the top when it comes to the perception of entertainment options for Hooters but the hotel’s renovations in the hope that it will attract a more affluent demographic has put Jarrett & Raja’s “Magician vs. Maestro” out in front.

Playing in the 165-seat Jarrett & Raja Showroom on an upper floor of the casino, the talented duo proves that despite the venue’s size, they have something big up their sleeves – most notably a piano. On top of that, the show is packaged with a dinner option with Jarrett and Raja serving up the audience’s just desserts with their 7 pm show following the 6 pm meal.

“We don’t do cookie-cutter stuff,” says Jarrett, an accomplished innovative magician who thinks outside the box. “In one illusion, I saw Raja in half and roll his top half over to the piano, which he plays upside down, all while being cut in half. This is not a serous show – it has a lot of comical moments. We did a vanishing piano illusion on ‘America’s Got Talent’ in 2012 that took us to the semi-finals – we were brought back into the competition after we had been eliminated by Howie Mandel, who chose us as his Wild Card Pick. Our signature is magic with a piano.

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Jarrett & Raja: Magician vs Maestro
Photo credit: Stephen Thorburn

“This gig came about from our appearance on the TV show ‘Shark Tank’ last April,” he continues. ”But because this is a small venue, we decided to write this show for the room. Years ago, before I met Raja, I was performing in an off-Broadway show called ‘Altered Reality.’ Then I met Raja, a classical pianist, and we decided to collaborate on classical magic. The toots of this show are from ‘Altered Reality,’ which was similar to the size and kinds of effects you see here. Since we couldn’t do the big effects we created for ‘America’s Got Talent,’ ‘Masters of Illusion,’ and ‘Shark Tank,’ we wanted to the core of this show to be something a lot more intimate and highlight our personalities. We perform a lot of new illusions. There are 14 illusions in ‘Magician vs. Maestro,’ most of them created for this show. Plus, we have a singer, J. R. Phelps, who is a thread throughout the evening, and an assistant, Jill Phenegar.”

Adds Raja, “We want people to know the nature of our brand. It is a marriage of music and magic that has never been done before like this. I hope that when they leave the theater they are equally moved by both and know who we are in a very fun and charming way.”

While what they do has to be seen to be believed, how Jarrett and Raja teamed up to begin with is a story in itself. Both Jarrett, who was mentored by Charles Reynolds, a magic consultant to Broadway shows and the magic mind of Doug Henning, and Raja, who spent five years studying music at Juilliard, grew up in New York. When in 1998, Jarrett, who had a gig at the Friars Club in New York City and usually performed to track music learned that there was no sound system, he asked a friend to help him find someone who could play piano for him. That friend had a friend who hooked Jarrett up with Raja.

“It was tough doing magic to Brahms,” Jarrett laughs. “But something magical happened that night. Still, my world was cabarets while Raja played Alice Tully Hall and Lincoln Center and had been playing with various orchestras all over the world. He was a purist – some of the pieces he played were 25 minutes long. So it took a lot of experimentation to put our two different worlds on stage at the same time.”

“I was going to be a concert pianist,” Raja continues. “The first time Jarrett took me to play in a cabaret, I said to him, ‘You’re going to take me to a place that smells like beer and wine?’ The transition happened gradually for me and, in fact, I fought it at first. I was a little embarrassed in front of my music peers. But we started having success and audience acceptance and people were always telling us how different we were. Initially, it wasn’t about the stuff we did – it was about our relationship. I would interrupt his act. That’s where the humor in our show began. Today we’re an illusionist team that is sort of the outsider of the magic industry.”

Since those early beginnings, the duo has performed all over the world. According to Jarrett, every performance he and Raja does is a creative project for them. A lot of the time, their illusions will develop with the music or will come from the music. Other times, a completely different idea will come out of Jarrett’s side, the magic side, and the music comes out of that. But they to figure out how to get into a piece, how to play it and how to end it.

“Creativity is what keeps us alive,” Jarrett admits. “And I’m all about challenges.”

Both say, however, that at the very basis of it, it’s still all about their relationship and their admiration for each other.

“We’ve always been each other’s fan,” Raja admits. “Jarrett has always been innovative and has always built his own path. His creativity and artistry are so unique and 100 percent him. Directors love Jarrett because he thinks out of the box. He’s like a balloon floating round in the sky tethered to nothing. I have to rein him in. But neither one of us treats life too seriously. We laugh a lot.”

“Without Raja, I don’t know where we’d be,” Jarrett says, admitting that they’re complete opposites yet have a lot in common as people. “He took the business ball and ran with it, making us rise to the top. I never understood the business aspect of things. Raja comes from the world of discipline. The only discipline I had was my love of magic. Plus, I’m a major magic geek and hated classical music but he brought an appreciation of that to me. He enriched my soul. But it is communication that is the number one thing that makes for a successful relationship and our communication is top-notch. Our relationship is based on respect.”

It can’t get much bigger than that.


This article appears courtesy of Vegas Insider

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