It’s 2006, and Nathan Burton has just been chained to a man-sized box on the set of “America’s Got Talent.”
In the blink of an eye, he’s been “flattened” by a steamroller, rolled up like a poster, loaded into a cannon by his trusty showgirl accomplices and launched over the heads of the judges, where he reappears — miraculously unflattened — right behind them.
At the time, celebrity judges Brandy and David Hasselhoff nearly jumped out of their skins, and Piers Morgan called it one of the most incredible stunts he’d ever seen.
The judges’ surprise was genuine. “I didn’t want to give it away until it was on live television,” says Burton, who had reappeared up in the balcony during rehearsal. “And I totally freaked them out.”
While Burton did not ultimately walk away with the show’s $1 million prize, his ability to wow audiences on seasons 1 and 4 of NBC’s popular TV talent show helped secure a multimillion-dollar contract for the “Nathan Burton Comedy Magic” show that now plays daily at the Flamingo Showroom in Las Vegas.
Don’t know where the Flamingo is? You can’t miss it. A 20-story-high likeness of Burton now graces the front of the building, and it can be seen from 30 miles away.
“It’s a little surreal,” says Burton, who dreamed of having his own show in Las Vegas from a very early age.
He is no stranger to Sin City. In 2003, he performed in “V - The Ultimate Variety Show,” then went on to open “Nathan Burton Comedy Magic” at the Aladdin Hotel and Casino in 2006. He has been playing the Flamingo since spring 2008.
The show combines big illusions, such as Burton’s signature “Microwave of Death” trick, with his playful and lighthearted sense of humor. The result is a family-friendly program that is fun for all ages.
“I describe it as going to the movies and seeing “Shrek,” where the kids enjoy it and laugh, but there are a lot of little innuendos for the adults, and they get it, and it’s fun,” Burton says. “It’s really enjoyable for everyone.”
The set was designed by Andy Walmsley, who also created the sets for “American Idol” and “America’s Got Talent.”
“He designed a really cool set,” Burton says. “And we just took the show up a notch with some new toys.”
These “toys” make for some dazzling illusions during the 90-minute show. “We actually just put in something new where I make a custom chopper appear on stage,” Burton says. “I float it, and in midair, I vanish it.”
It can take anywhere from six months to a year to perfect a new trick, and this often involves creating two or three versions before it is finalized for the show.
“As technology improves, so does the magic,” Burton says. “You have to stay ahead of the technology because otherwise people are like, ‘Oh, it’s just a flat-screen TV.’ That’s why every month we’re putting new stuff in the show.”
Burton’s biggest influence is David Copperfield, whom he idolized as a child. “He was a god to me,” Burton says. “When I came to Vegas, he actually came to my show, and he really liked it. And we became friends and hang out.”
While the illusions in the show may change, the presence of Burton’s lovely showgirl assistants are a constant. It started in 2007 when Burton locked himself in a suspended glass box in the mall at Planet Hollywood for seven days with seven showgirls. The showgirls took four-hour shifts, but Burton stayed in the box the whole time without food and water.
“It got so much attention, that ever since then, showgirls have been a part of the show,” he says.
Burton performed his first magic show at age 5 for his kindergarten class. This first effort was “really bad,” he says, but he was hooked. By age 16, he was building his own illusions in wood shop class, and he put on a ticketed show in his hometown of Oakland, Calif. He entered magic competitions as a teenager and later took his act on tour to Europe and then Asia, where he made an elephant disappear nightly in a South Korean venue.
Burton also made a splash on television during the mid-1990s when he was featured on NBC’s “ The World’s Wildest Magic” and “World’s Greatest Magic 3.” He was also the only magician included in E! Entertainment’s “The Entertainer” starring Wayne Newton, which aired in 2005.
At the Flamingo, Burton continues to delight audiences with his special recipe of comedy and illusion. “Usually, I get people after the show who tell me, ‘I laughed so hard, my side hurts,’” Burton says. “I just want them to have a great time.”