A few years ago, I was encouraged by comedy magician Mike Hammer (headliner at Four Queens casino) to attend an intimate performance by guest artist Banachek. Unfamiliar with the entertainer, I headed to the now-defunct Royal Resort and was absolutely wowed by Banachek's skills. But that was then, and this is now. The world has dramatically changed, but Banachek's act remains the same, albeit in a much larger theater. Hence, my mixed emotions for BANACHEK's Mind Games Live, now performing at The STRAT hotel-casino.
The marketing for MIND GAMES LIVE presents Mr. Banachek (birth name Steven Shaw) as a mind reader. However, he's much more than that. Active in the world of mystical arts for more than forty years, the accomplished Banachek is also known as a magician, mentalist, and escape artist. He's been deeply involved in the scientific study of psychic abilities, telepathy, and other forms of parapsychology for decades. As President of the James Randi Educational Foundation, Banachek has pursued a lifelong mission to debunk the very skills that he uses for entertainment purposes. Therein lies the conundrum - how can you enjoy a show when the star blatantly identifies himself as a fraud?
The formula for MIND GAMES LIVE is pretty simple. After a brief video introduction and some banter, Banachek invites people to approach a pair of microphones. He'll then describe objects they're concealing in their hands, predict the serial numbers on their money, and claim to know details about their personal lives and thoughts. It's impressive...for a couple of minutes. But then you're just listening to him rattle off details to strangers, they say "Yes, you're correct", and the pattern continues. The applause was mild, at best....because you know he's going to be right every single time. A rather slow way to start a 75-minute performance inside a grand Vegas showroom.
Next, he invites audience members to join him onstage, assuring everyone that none of them know each other, that nothing was prearranged, and that Banachek will pay you a hefty sum if you can prove otherwise. He touches the gentleman next to him...and the blindfolded lady a few feet away reacts. He instructs someone else to "stab" him, but you know that the participant already selected the knife without a sharp blade. And so it goes.
One sequence I truly enjoyed is a carryover from the Royal Resort show. A young girl was brought up to hold a supposedly-ordinary stainless steel fork. As she placed it in her palm and rubbed it with her finger, the fork bent and eventually twisted. This tried-and-true illusion is a classic that still boggles my mind. You see, I was the person holding the fork four years ago, know that it was solid steel, and witnessed its transformation. That fork is still in my silverware drawer...and I even use it from time to time.
Even after something as mind-boggling as this, Banachek quickly reminds you that it's all a bunch of hooey and that you're being mind-f*cked. Sadly, that callback completely deflates the level of wonder that he's just created. Why does he do that? Your guess is as good as mine, but it definitely takes away from the fun.
Come to think of it, there's very little actual fun in BANACHEK'S - MIND GAMES LIVE. Although the star is handsome, charismatic, and eloquent, his show is lacking any kind of dazzle. When you consider that he rose to fame with such astonishing feats as escaping from a deeply-buried coffin and catching a gun-fired bullet in his teeth. there's every reason to expect a fair share of excitement and flash in his Vegas production. Alas, there's none to be found. That just might be the factor that causes MIND GAMES LIVE to receive a premature burial.
BANACHEK'S MIND GAMES LIVE performs at 4 pm inside The STRAT Showroom. Dates vary - click here for calendar and ticketing information. TicketKite is currently offering discounted seats starting at $27 (plus taxes/fees). Head to the TicketKite website to access that deal.
Mike Hammer Comedy Magic Performs Tuesday through Saturday at 7 pm inside Four Queens Casino. TicketKite is featuring seats for $28 via this link.