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HEADLINER SHOWDOWN – Mat Franco vs. Piff the Magic Dragon

It’s a faceoff between America’s Got Talent magic acts. Who should you see?

Talk about tough decisions. You’re a big fan of America’s Got Talent and watch it faithfully. Your first stop when arriving in Sin City is to see America’s Got Talent – Las Vegas Live at the Luxor (full review here). Now you’ve got enough bank to take in a magic act by an AGT headliner. Should it be Mat Franco – Magic Reinvented Nightly at Linq Hotel or Piff The Magic Dragon at Flamingo?

Let’s put these two very different magicians under the microscope to see who comes out on top.

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Round One – Location/Venue

Mat Franco has a self-named theater at Linq Hotel. Located at the top of a very long, steep escalator above the casino floor, the renovated space can be quite difficult to locate. Its overly-modern redesign features an industrial look with exposed pipes, bare bulbs, and slate grey walls. High-quality lighting and sound are a plus, but the cheap, awkward general admission seats appear to have been chosen by IKEA trainees. 

Piff and company recently moved from the intimate Bugsy’s Cabaret to Flamingo‘s main showroom. That grand dame was once home to Donny & Marie and Olivia Newton-John. Vintage-style booths and long narrow tables are a mixed bag, but the classic vibe of this historic room cannot be denied. It’s wide, relatively spacious, and very easy to locate off the north side of the casino floor. 

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Winner – Piff the Magic Dragon

Round Two – Production Values

When you’re plunking down cash for a Vegas show, you want spectacle. Movement, music, and theatrics are all a part of the Sin City experience. Six years into his residency, Mat Franco has yet to learn this. His set design is stripped down and monochromatic, as are the costumes he wears. There are a minimum of props, no supporting cast, and video segments are mostly of the nostalgic variety (“I was an awkward young kid with a dream”). There’s not much here besides the magic to capture your attention.

Piff the Magic Dragon enters the stage from above, “flying” into a whimsical set adorned with growing trees, a dog-shooting cannon, and a giant gumball machine that spews out prizes. He’s joined onstage by screaming showgirl assistant Jade Simone…and of course, Mr. Piffles, a hungry old chihuahua who is the real star of the show. There are jokes, stunts, amusing video segues, and plenty of color Plus, the headliner is a grown man in a dragon costume. Enough said.

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Winner – Piff the Magic Dragon

Round Three – Magic and Illusions

There’s no question that each of these entertainers is at the top of his game. Franco was the first magician to ever win America’s Got Talent. He took the top spot in the show’s ninth season (2015), is sleek, polished, easy on the eyes, and exudes a very approachable aura. Franco’s tricks aren’t bombastic, but they’re quite intriguing. He prefers small-scale illusions like card tricks, making wine bottles multiply, and causing objects to disappear. Even the grand finale with his own cannon involves playing cards.

Piff is portrayed by British comedian/magician John van der Put, who proudly proclaims himself as “The Loser of America’s Got Talent”. He and Mr. Piffles placed in the top ten of AGT season ten. Magic definitely takes a back seat to the star’s sardonic humor but is still impressive enough for him to be considered a legitimate magician. His illusions are broader in scale than Franco’s, much sillier, and involve the audience to a greater degree.

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Verdict – Tie

Round Four – Family-friendly?

This is a tough one. Franco’s show is nearly devoid of naughty humor, therefore you can consider it to be family-friendly. Yet kids might find it way too verbose and literal to be considered fun. In fact, they might leave with the impression that Magic Reinvented Nightly was boring.

Piff is much more whimsical. There’s potty humor to make children giggle, but certain elements are inappropriate for young people. No age limit is specified, but the disclaimer says “Fun for some of the family”.

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Winner – Mat Franco

Round Five – Bang For Your Buck

The winner of this category might depend on your expectations. Do you want a big Vegas spectacle or a relatively intimate evening of illusion? Let’s compare prices to help you decide. The rack rate for Piff the Magic Dragon seats at Ticketmaster start at $52.98 (plus taxes/fees). TicketKite offers prices as low as $45.

Mat Franco – Magic Reinvented Nightly goes for a minimum of $49.99 plus associated fees at Ticketmaster. The discounted price at TicketKite is $46. Since the comparative cost is essentially the same, we’ll give the edge to Piff for his much larger production.

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Winner – Piff the Magic Dragon

Overall Winner – Piff the Magic Dragon

If you can’t tell by now who our winner is, then you’ve only been looking at the pictures. Mat Franco – Magic Reinvented Nightly is solid entertainment and worthy of your time. However, Piff the Magic Dragon is so off-kilter and absolutely absurd that you can’t help loving it.

Piff the Magic Dragon performs Thursday through Monday at 7 pm inside Flamingo Hotel Casino.

Matt Franco – Magic Reinvented Nightly performs Monday through Saturday at 7 pm inside The Linq Hotel Casino.

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