It’s ironic that the word “focus” is one of the most challenging pronunciations for Santiago Michel to master. That word is integral to the 24-year-old mentalist’s current existence, which is centered around his new show Ilusión Mental in Planet Hollywood’s 185-seat Sin City Theater. The Mexico City native is focused on strengthening his act and building his name, but he’s doing it in an entirely different way. His is the only Spanish-language show on the Strip, maybe in the Strip’s history.
Ilusión Mental soft-opened in December and celebrated its grand opening in February. Since English is his second language, Michel prefers to perform in Spanish, but he never really planned on being a Vegas entertainment pioneer.
“When I’m performing in Spanish I don’t have to be overthinking what I’m going to say or worrying about words I cannot pronounce,” he says, and by the way, his English is excellent. “I never thought to do a Spanish-speaking show. A friend gave me the idea. If they want a show in Italian, I’ll learn that. But I’m getting a lot of good response, a lot of people coming up after the show saying they had so much fun and have never seen anything like this in Spanish.”
There’s a lot of showgoers who have never seen a mentalist, either. Michel started young, first when he saw a magician for the first time at 6 years old and then performing as a teenager after becoming obsessed with hypnotism. He came to Las Vegas three years ago to study at UNLV—a mandate from his parents—and has already performed all over the world, in Spain, Cuba, Colombia, the Netherlands and, last summer, Russia.
Since his performance is about making seemingly impossible mental connections—all the while keeping things mysterious—it’s only natural to build cultural connections into the mix. “It’s sort of a trip around an idea that we are all connected and share the same things, one of which is Spanish,” he says. “There is an appeal to their emotions that, ‘We need to go and support this show because he’s trying this.’ It wasn’t by design, but there is a lot of pride and responsibility.”
Ilusión Mental also attracts non-Spanish speakers, and Michel is able to mix in enough English to keep everyone connected. Just like going to an abstract Cirque du Soleil show, it’s more important that you enjoy yourself than it is to completely understand everything that’s happening.
Michel understands Las Vegas is a multicultural, international destination, so his focus is exactly where it needs to be. He’s setting himself apart from other entertainers, especially in a venue that’s home to two other very different magic-themed shows, Xavier Mortimer’s fantastical Magical Dream and Murray Sawchuck’s comedic Murray the Magician.
“Ultimately the best indicator of how well we’re doing is when we start to see other Spanish-speaking shows open on the Strip,” he says. “We’re taking a lot of risk, but I think you have to take chances, you have to go after what you want. Whether it works or doesn’t work is not what matters, it’s the fact we’re trying something new.”
ILUSIÓN MENTAL Sunday, Monday, Thursday & Saturday, 5:30 p.m., $50-$100. Planet Hollywood’s Sin City Theater, 702-777-2782.