The Great Tomsoni & Co.

Old-timer the Mind Behind the Magic

By Mike Weatherford
Las Vegas Review-Journal
September 14, 2008

The new Criss Angel show pins a lot of ticket-sale hopes on younger fans who spend more time in nightclubs than other shows on the Strip.

Those club lines probably don't extend to a fledgling effort at Palace Station called "Wonderground." It's an after-party to Jeff McBride's new magic show in the Sound Trax lounge, a gathering of local magicians.
It's there that 74-year-old Johnny Thompson has briefly revived his career as The Great Tomsoni, a familiar specialty act on the Strip in the 1970s and '80s.

In recent years, Thompson has spent more time behind the scenes as the go-to guy for magicians such as -- whisk the scarf away -- Criss Angel.

"Magic's an old man's game," Thompson says. "People don't realize it. You gain experience. And experience gains you more knowledge."

Thompson was part of the team churning out illusions for the first three seasons of Angel's "Mindfreak" TV series. "In the three years, we did pretty close to 900 effects," he says.

Angel "came up with the bulk of the material idea-wise, (but) not always having a method." When Angel, Lance Burton or other magicians say, "Here's what I'd like to do," Thompson will "find a way to make it happen. I'm the guy who can design and make it come to fruition."

Lately, Thompson has been working more with Penn & Teller, helping them update their show with new illusions, such as a sawing-in-half that goes bloodily awry.

When Thompson was 8 years old, he saw a riverboat gambler in a movie and decided he wanted to be a card cheat. His sleight-of-hand skills put magic in between other highlights of a colorful career that includes The Harmonicats group in the '50s, and acting in the 1978 dinner-theater production Bob Crane headlined when he was murdered.

"He fools the other magicians," says Tobias Beckwith, manager of McBride and the club effort. "When other magicians do sleight-of-hand you know there's something going on. With him, it's clear as a bell and it's a miracle."

Thompson will be back in October after performing in Spain and a London Palladium to Siegfried & Roy on Sept. 28. Though he was briefly involved in Angel's live show, he is as curious as the rest of us to see how it all turns out.

"The reason you hear magicians say, 'Oh, we never tell our secrets' is that magic is pretty simplistic," he says. "Technology is not our best friend."

The "Masked Magician" TV specials exposing the craft were "detrimental because (they) revealed concepts behind secrets. There are only so many things you can do."

If Angel's new show lives up to its director's promise that it will "discard everything that is obvious (and) go further," Thompson will be one old dog who learns some new tricks.