Over the past year, Murray Sawchuck has felt the loss. He’s lost his venue. He’s lost his father. He’s lost his onstage assistant and wife—one and the same—to a fellow Las Vegas magician. But Sawchuck is not at a loss for words. He’s not lost focus, his zeal for performing or his uncanny acumen for promotion.
And good for him. Sawchuck is the recently star-crossed yet indefatigable afternoon magician at Planet Hollywood’s Sin City Theatre. The 13-year Vegas performer is holding tight to his daily 4 p.m. time slot like an NFL running back protecting the football. He’s uniformly billed as the Celebrity Magician, familiar for his cobalt-blue suit and shock of high-rising blond locks.
“This suit is from Armani—Salvation Armani,” he jokes, characteristic of his throwback comedy stylings. As he produces a deck of cards, he scans the audience and says, “I usually do this card trick for 1,000 people. But 82 will do.”
Sawchuck hails from Vancouver, Canada, and arrived on the Strip in 2002 in a show at the since-razed Frontier. He’s bounced around venues over the years, and seemed to find an afternoon groove at Laugh Factory until the hotel hooked big-act illusionist Jan Rouven to play Tropicana Theater. That led Sawchuck on a Valley-wide hunt for a venue, which led to Sin City Theatre, on PH’s mezzanine level. That kicked off a bumpy period for Sawchuck, which saw his father die from cardiac arrest in June. John Sawchuck had nearly died in April, only to make a recovery long enough to spend several more weeks with his son.
“I’ve learned this in my life,” Sawchuck says over a cup of coffee after a show. “Your happiness doesn’t depend on what happens to you, but how you respond to what happens. In the last 18 months I’ve been kicked out of the Trop, lost my father, lost my wife and partner. But I am okay, because I continue to believe in who I am.”
As a performer, Sawchuck is a flawless orator who boasts a host of classically fashioned magic tricks, like making a bowling ball appear from a large artist’s tablet and finding an audience member’s phone inside a deflated balloon. Standing rod-straight and reciting his shtick with the precision of a ’50s radio DJ, he shares the stage with the dullard janitor character Lefty, played effortlessly by Doug Leferovich, himself a terrific sleight-of-hand artist.
Until this summer, Sawchuck had been joined onstage, and in life, by his strikingly effective stage assistant-wife Chloe Crawford. The two were married in 2012, and had carved a familiar three-person lineup with Lefty at Planet Hollywood. (The three are still shown in TSA public-service announcement video clips at McCarran International Airport.) But it had become apparent earlier this year that Crawford was interested in a more prominent career than appearing in Sawchuck’s box of magic.
A model for Playboy’s web publication and a former dancer in Fantasy at the Luxor, Crawford had been working with her husband on developing her own magic act. A video clip of her performing a trick in which she disassembles and reassembles a parasol caught the attention of the producers of Britain’s Got Talent, the version of America’s Got Talent in her native England. She was given a spot on the show and reached the finals due largely to a performance in which she made herself and a motorcycle disappear, and then reappear in the theater’s wings within seconds.
Crawford’s BGT run ended in May. So did her appearances with her husband. Sawchuck began using substitute assistants or performing the show only with Lefty. In September, Crawford informed Sawchuck that she wanted out of their personal and professional partnership, with plans to join Criss Angel’s multimillion-dollar magic empire, headquartered in Las Vegas.
The message was clear: Angel had taken the reins of Crawford’s career. Within days of the two filing for divorce, she was being introduced during Angel’s show Believe at the Luxor, with him telling fans to “expect big things from her” in the near future.
Asked if his ex-wife would make a great magician, Sawchuck spends several seconds mulling his answer. Finally, he says, “I think she can be a great magician, because she is a great performer. I think she has great potential to follow in the steps of Melinda [the First Lady of Magic, the first female magician to headline on the Strip] or other female magicians who maybe are not as famous ... If she were here right now, I’d say to live life to the fullest and have no regrets. I wish her all the success in the world.”
The resulting personal and professional void left Sawchuck with his one-off gigs across the country, including such remote outposts as Cactus Pete’s in Jackpot, and his steady Planet Hollywood gig. This is where Sawchuck showed the type of mettle that has allowed him to remain onstage for more than a dozen years in Vegas, even as a host of similarly capable entertainers have tried and faltered. He has partnered with YouTube wizard Seth Leach to produce a series of videos shared around the world.
In the first Sawchuck is shown drinking from a bottle of Champagne on a public bench near the Downtown Grand. A security officer, his face pixilated, approaches to bust him ... but Sawchuck slips the bottle in a bag and makes it vanish. The whole thing seems as if it could be staged, but Sawchuck insists it’s real, and so far, the two-minute video titled How to Escape a Cop With Magic has registered more than 27 million hits from the SoFloAntonio Facebook page, a clearinghouse for such distinctive video clips. Sawchuck has recorded three other “guerilla” videos, to be given similar posting prominence.
It’s all part of Sawchuck’s master plan: use his cozy Vegas afternoon show as a launching pad for a weekly TV series. He has appeared as a guest on more than 100 TV shows, most notably his own run on America’s Got Talent (when he just missed finishing in the top 10) and as a recurring expert on Pawn Stars. “Some of my heroes are the guys who beat the odds and made it on TV,” Sawchuck says. “Merv Griffin, Lawrence Welk, Ed Sullivan. They had the ambition to succeed in a medium that, let’s face it, they were not built for.”
Another hero of Sawchuck: P.T. Barnum, the great American showman-huckster. And like Barnum, Sawchuck knows his way around the circus. His goal is simple: Keep the acts spinning, and keep the blue suit clean.
Murray Sawchuck Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday-Monday, 4 p.m., $35-$45. Sin City Theatre, Planet Hollywood, 702-777-6737.