While in Las Vegas for last week's Ticket Summit® conference and trade show, I made it a point to attend Penn & Teller's show at the Rio. Though I had visited Vegas once a year for the previous three years, I hadn't yet gotten a chance to see it. So this year I actually got a ticket and went as soon as I arrived in the city.
I knew going into it that Penn & Teller isn't quite like other magic shows. Their shtick is that of the skeptic, and it's a role they fill well because not only do they have the chops to actually perform the tricks. With such confidence, they can afford to give away a few secrets, and it helps them stand out from the other magicians on the Strip.
However, I have seen some complaints in other reviews that Penn & Teller spend too much time talking and not enough time doing tricks. I think that's misguided. Sure they could do dozens of tricks in the 90 minutes the show is on, but it would likely detract from the quality of all of them. With P&T's setup, there are fewer tricks, but you come away much more impressed by what's there. If you go into it knowing that, you can enjoy yourself a lot. I know I did.
What did I find so great about their show? Two things:
First, they pretty much tell (and show) you up front that magic is about sleight of hand and distracting the audience, so that it appears something magical happened. While they give the act has a lot of transparency by doing this, they still make it work. Penn is well known for his talkative nature, so while he launches into small talk, Teller is using that time to complete the trick. Despite knowing they were going to talk me away from seeing the secret of the trick, it still happened.
The second thing is that they keep their act fresh. It's easy for a successful duo like Penn & Teller to just do all the old stuff show after show, but it isn't like that. It gets updated from time to time, and for the times.
To that extent, two of the acts involved using cell phones from audience members. I know at first glance that may not seem very impressive, but it worked out extremely well. Just view the video above; it doesn't give the entire thing away. They also performed a new trick the night I was there, so they are making some effort to keep it updated, rather than doing only what they've doing for years.
As for the politics in the show? It appears, yes, but it's not overbearing as a few reviews I've read have made it out to be. It's only there in a couple spots. The rest of the time, they do regular magic tricks. I fully admit, however, that I may be biased, so you will have to decide for yourself.
With a healthy mix of the old and the new, tricks that are hard to explain away, despite the transparency from the duo, and a few chances for audience participation, Penn & Teller is well worth your time and money. The show is hosted at the Rio, and though I sat in the front, I didn't think anywhere seemed like a bad place to sit.