Wizard of Ahh's
Interview and Photography - Santodonato
Styling - Jeffrey DeBarathy and Georgia Richardson
Dorothy Model - Lisa Marie Smith
Prop Master - Mark Bennick
Shot on location at Tim Clothier's Illusion Projects, Inc.
Photo: "Wayne Newton and Doug"
Photo: "with The Jacksons"
Over the past five years, Douglas Leferovich has made quite a name for himself with producers and shows here in Las Vegas.
Leferovich has been a consultant and go-to-guy for a vast variety of live shows here on the Las Vegas Strip. Some of the recent shows include The Jacksons, Boyz II Men, Meat Loaf, Human Nature, Name That Tune, Wayne Newton, Recycled Percussion, Greg London, Sapphire Comedy Hour, Divas Las Vegas, Steve Wyrick, and of course Murray Sawchuck, in which Leferovich also plays the hilarious and sleight-of-hand sidekick, “Lefty.” I had a chance to sit down with my friend over lunch and chat about his background, his thoughts on entertainment and Las Vegas, and what the future holds for this talented wizard behind-the-scenes, and who many call the “Wizard of Ahh’s,” if you will.
SANTODONATO: So where in New York were you born?
LEFEROVICH: Just outside the city, about 30 minutes, in Bronxville, New York.
SANTODONATO: You spent your whole life there?
LEFEROVICH: Yeah, until I was 18 – then I went to college at University of Pennsylvania Business School in Philadelphia, which was interesting because, as I got older, I spent time going into New York City… But even though University of Pennsylvania is an Ivy League school and it is a very good school—it is a very, very rough neighborhood. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of these kids that are very well-off that are going to this school, and yet there’s a lot of poverty in Philadelphia. And you’re in West Philly – different than Yale University, which is a gated university, where you get a universal key, and then when you go into certain areas, you have to have a key to get in. I mean it’s a little bit of a false sense of a security, because obviously you could just follow someone in. But yeah, the third day I was there, freshman year, someone got held up at gunpoint. And I got held up at gunpoint!
SANTODONATO: How fucked up is that?! How old were you when you got held up?
LEFEROVICH: 20 – senior year. Went to an ATM with a buddy, was gonna go to a bar, and put the card in the ATM, came out, went around the corner – gun in the back. Someone was like: “Give me your money!” They took the wallet. “Keep walking, don’t turn around.” We walked right to a police station, and they were like: “What kind of gun was it?” I’m like, “The kind of gun it was—was in my back—that’s what kind of gun it was!” I didn’t have the time to turn around and go, “What kind of gun is that?” Now what’s ironic is—because I grew up in the city—and my dad told me this trick a long time ago: When I would go into the city, I would bring a dummy wallet. So I would have expired credit cards, and I would have cash in it—but I wouldn’t have anything in it—so that way, God forbid, if it got stolen or whatever…
SANTODONATO: Was your dad into magic too — or in entertainment?
LEFEROVICH: No, ironically, my dad was a lawyer, which is similar to magic—lying and deceit. (laughter) My dad was, actually for 23 years, General Counsel for the New York State’s Bankers Association. So that means, when the top five banks in New York had a legal question, they would call my dad. So my dad had a very important job—a lot of time working—a lot of time on the phone. He’d go to Albany for different conventions. When my mom had my brother and I, my mom stopped working to raise my brother and I. When my mom was younger she was very athletic and she actually for a little bit of time played tennis professionally. She and her sister played tennis, and a lot of times that’s how they met boys. They would go and play tennis—and they’d be playing singles, and there would be boys playing next to them—and they’d say: “Hey, do you want to play mixed doubles?” And that was a way to meet them. So growing up, I’ve played tennis all my life. My mother never wanted me to play competitive—she always wanted me to play for fun. So when I play tennis, you can hit a good shot, and I’ll go: “Good shot!” It’s not a competitive thing for me. But growing up, my mom did schoolwork with us, sports… And at a very young age, my mom said to my dad: “You need to find something—that’s something you do with the boys—that’s your thing—that the boys look forward to—that they can say: “Oh, I’m doing this with my dad.” So when my dad was younger, he was at a YMCA camp, and his counselor did like some fun magic tricks. There was a well-known magic store in New York City that was a couple of blocks away from where my dad worked. So he got some tricks, came home, and it became something that we started doing as a family. So my grandmother would come over, and it would be her birthday—and we’d put on a little show. It would be Christmas—and we’d put on a little show. Never started off as a career, more as something that we did as a family. For me, I was always naturally good at it. It just came very easy to me—performing. I feel like I’m a very visual person—I’m very good at puzzles. So I always looked at magic as a puzzle—how to figure it out. When I started getting older, my dad would buy a trick. He’d learn it, and then when he showed it to me, I’d say: “Don’t tell me how to do it—I want to try to figure it out on my own.” So as we got older, we started doing shows. So the neighbor said, “Our son’s having a birthday. Maybe they can come over and do a show. I’ll pay you $35.” So it really wasn’t something that we did to make money. Of course, ironically, my brother and I split the money, and my dad lost money, because he bought all the tricks. But it became something really fun that we did. Growing up, when my other friends got regular jobs—a paper route, bagging groceries at a grocery store—my brother and I did shows. So yeah, it was very cool.
SANTODONATO: How old were you when you did your first show?
LEFEROVICH: I was four. It was for my pre-kindergarten class. My dad did most of the tricks. My brother, who is two years older, did a couple, and I did one trick. I had on a green turtleneck, corduroy pants and a black plastic derby, and I had a yellow and green silk that were tied together—and I passed it through my hand three times, and it turned into a red and blue silk. And then I bowed. No one clapped, and I ran over and started crying to my mom. So that was my first experience. “Welcome to showbiz!” My dad would never be like: “Great job!” He would always say: “It was good—but you know what? You can work on this.” He said to me once when I was young: “I want to treat you almost like a rubber band, where I always want you to stretch. I always want you to try to get better. I never want to say: ‘You did great. It was perfect,’ because I never want you to stop growing.” My mom, obviously, complete opposite—biggest fan—nothing I could do wrong. And it’s nice to have that balance, because as an entertainer, I feel like you are somewhat fragile. You’re putting yourself out there. I feel like over time I’ve learned to become somewhat desensitized to the criticism. I feel like, if I put my best performance out there, some people are gonna like it; some people aren’t. I feel like, if you’re a critic and you love everything, then what are you doing as a job? When I look at Mike Weatherford—and he’s hard on someone in a review, I go: “Well, he’s gotta be, because you can’t be nice to everybody.”
SANTODONATO: How did you get into consulting and production, and did it mainly start here in Vegas?
LEFEROVICH: My major in college was communications, marketing and advertising. And I feel like I always had a knack. When I’d watch a TV commercial, I’d say: “You know what would make this commercial better?” or: “You know, that jingle could have been better.” In the marketing classes, I felt like what made me excel was my creativity. Obviously, having a performance background helped a lot. As we got into higher levels of marketing and advertising classes, a big part of your grade was dependent on a presentation. One thing was you had to open up a business on campus. At Penn, the alcohol laws last call was 1:30am. So my group opened up a place called “Shakes”. In the window storefront, we were gonna have like 50 different flavors of ice cream and we were gonna be open all day, plus open from 1:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the morning. So when you’re out partying ‘til whenever, you could come by and get a shake. So the hook to get people in was shakes—but then you had fried food and whatever. Because of my magic background, speaking in front of people was never really a problem—so when we had to break up into groups—people always wanted me in their group. I’d help with their concept, but they’d say: “You don’t have to do any of the number crunching, as long as you present.”
SANTODONATO: What’s the biggest budget show you’ve worked on recently?
LEFEROVICH: Meatloaf and The Jacksons.
SANTODONATO: How were The Jacksons to work with?
Photo: "Johnny Depp, Doug, and Alice Cooper"
Photo: "with Larry King"
LEFEROVICH: It’s so crazy growing up being such a fan of Michael Jackson and The Jacksons. It got to the point, when I was working on the show, I was talking to them 3-4 times a week. Marlon was very hands-on. And it’s funny now looking back…
SANTODONATO: And was Meatloaf was fun to work with?
LEFEROVICH: Yes, very, very clear vision. I suppose that some people are a little more open to suggestions. He had a very clear idea of what he wanted, which you just have to be able to adapt your style to what the client is. Someone said to me once: “You’re like the Wizard of Oz—like, people don’t realize all that goes on.
SANTODONATO: Normal Joe public doesn’t even think on that level.
LEFEROVICH: It’s the same for you. Most people go: “You take some pictures, you write an article. How hard can it be to put a magazine together? People have no concept… you have to have content every month… How does it layout? Do I have to make this article longer to fit a page to fill this in? Or even photography… How many times do I look at a great picture and go: “Would it have been as great if it was in black and white?” The way you crop a picture…
SANTODONATO: It’s production… like what you said—how do you get in and out of it?
LEFEROVICH: Or as you know, how many times is it the last four pictures that are the pictures you use? I’ve always been about the quantity, where when I work on a project, I’ll give you a hundred ideas. Hopefully, you think one or two are gems, you think five to ten are really good, and the rest you go, “Nope, I don’t need them.” When you do a photo shoot—you might take a hundred photos… to get that one, great one. People don’t realize…
SANTODONATO: Sometimes a thousand.
SANTODONATO: Just going through the goddamn photos… It’s a couple days work just to pick the pictures, before you even start working on them. When you’re putting together a show like the Murray SawChuck show—how often, and how much do you rehearse to get your chops so that show’s flowing so well?
LEFEROVICH: It helps that we are best friends.
SANTODONATO: When did you first start working together?
LEFEROVICH: I think 15 or 16 years ago.
SANTODONATO: Did you meet in New York?
LEFEROVICH: My old business partner and I were living in New Jersey working on our big show in Atlantic City. We performed at the Tropicana, different resorts and casinos, and did our big show at The Sands. Murray came in town for a magic convention. He was the opening act at the convention, and my old business partner and I were the closing act. What a lot of people don’t realize is, when you’re not at David Copperfield’s level, making the money he does—even though he’s very hands-on—it’s amazing how you have to be good at a lot of different things. You have to wear a lot of different hats. You’re making your own phone calls. You’re your own publicist. You’re your own lighting designer, in the sense that you’re telling the lighting person what you want the lighting to be. It’s amazing how many magicians can sew, because you’re at a gig—a pocket rips, a button pops off—how do you fix it? Amazing how many magicians are very good with their hands as builders—soldering things—because you get somewhere, something breaks—you have to be able to fix it. So I feel like we bonded, because on the show we were the two most professional acts, but I felt like we were sort of going in the same direction, the same path, in terms of trying to get to the next level. And he had a very good work ethic, like we did. So for many years, we would pass gigs back and forth. You know, you get a call for a gig and then you get a call for a gig the same week—couldn’t do it. “Oh, let me recommend somebody.” That way you get to keep it in the family. After our show in Atlantic City I moved out to Vegas, and then two weeks later he came out to Vegas, and he had a show at the Frontier. They gave him a suite for two weeks. I had an apartment. I had a girlfriend at the time on the East Coast. He was married at the time.
SANTODONATO: Did you just move out here on a whim? Did you have a gig that brought you out here?
LEFEROVICH: We were like, “Oh my God, Vegas is where we need to go to book our show.” When we were in Atlantic City, it was at the end of an era where they paid for shows. We came out here, we pitched, we had a handshake deal to be the afternoon show at New York New York, when “Lord of the Dance” was the night show. Then at the eleventh hour, Cirque came in and said, “We’ll spend whatever, 30-40 million dollars. We’ll redo your theater and bring in a topless sexy Cirque show.
SANTODONATO: On Meatloaf and The Jacksons, what did you create for
those two shows—was it magic-based?
LEFEROVICH: The Jacksons was magic-based. When I watched footage of them on tour, when they started the show, they just walked out onstage. I said, “There’s gotta be a better way to get you onstage, so there’s not that awkward moment where you guys just walk out.” So we created an effect where there was an oversized frame with a bunch of black and white images in the frame of The Jacksons through the years. So the frame lowered in, then there was a frame inside of the frame and the inner frame spun, and then four jackets lowered in above the frame, and they lowered in behind the frame, and they were attached to a sign that said, “The Jacksons”. Then, behind the frame, it got backlit and then you saw them, and when the frame flew out, they were wearing the jackets. It was a cool way for them to get on stage. With Meatloaf, he had an idea where he was playing this character from one of his movies that was a silly, happy-go-lucky guy and he was explaining the concept of the show: “This is gonna be me telling stories about my life. This isn’t gonna be one of those Cirque du Soleil shows… you’re not gonna see someone come out and eat fire.” And he’s downstage at the edge, talking to the audience, and someone comes out, eats fire, and runs across the stage, and people laughed, and he goes: “Oh, you think that’s funny? Well, if I was gonna have a variety act, I’d have someone come out and juggle meat cleavers.” Someone comes out, juggles meat cleavers. So then he had clowns, and this and that. Well, I helped cast all those acts, because it’s cheaper to get people in town. But how do you go: “I need a fire eater, I need a silk person, I need this and that”? Now, we did an audition, but there was a lot of people there that I called because I knew them. Being in entertainment you say, “Hey, I know somebody’s who a clown—do you know anyone else who’s got Ringling Bros. experience?” So it helps.
SANTODONATO: So, you conceptualized how the Jacksons were going to get on stage. How hands-on are you in developing how it’s going to work? Do you guys build some of your tricks, as well?
LEFEROVICH: Some of the smaller stuff, yes. The bigger stuff that’s costing $15-$20-$30-grand: I have one illusion builder, who is a very good fabricator. His primary business is building magic illusions, but he built all the props for Name That Tune. I’d sit down, and for example, like that dry erase board, in my head I’d go, here’s what I see: “I see us starting at a 45, I see it lowering, and I see a frame within a frame that I can pivot in place.” And then, part of what his specialty is, is figuring out: “How does it go from this position? How does the pin pull?” I don’t figure out the technical stuff. I work with him on design. All his stuff now is on CAD. And what’s amazing, is because of Auto CAD and technology, when he builds a prop, it is unbelievable how it looks like exactly like the Auto CAD. It’s not like you’re sketching on a napkin and go: “Oh… I didn’t think it was gonna be like that. I didn’t realize it was gonna be so big.”
SANTODONATO: Right—you’re not pulling a Spinal Tap moment.
LEFEROVICH: (laughter) Right! And he’ll put a representation of a person 5 foot 10, and you’ll get a perspective on how big something is.
SANTODONATO: And how do you work with Murray?
LEFEROVICH: Murray’s very good at saying, “I’ve got an idea 75-80% of the way. To get it to 100%, we’ve got to do it in front of an audience. I’ve got to put it in the show.” Murray’s mentality, which is very interesting, is, he goes: “Sometimes I have to put in a joke or a trick, and I have to bomb it, or it not go well, for me to figure out what the timing is with the audience.” Because without the audience’s reaction, how do you know if it works? Sometimes you come up with an idea, and you think: “Oh, my God, this is gonna be amazing.” And people go: “Yeah, it’s okay…” So sometimes you have to be able to leave away your personal feelings, to go: “What does the audience want?” But I feel like where we’re lucky is he’s created a brand and a character onstage, and he’s helped me develop my brand and character of “LEFEROVICH”. So what makes it easy for us is when we come up with an idea and we put something new into the show, it’s easy to know what we’re supposed to do, because we know what our characters are. If something ever goes wrong, I know… If he drops something onstage by accident, I know he’s gonna look at me and go: “Uh… You gonna pick that up?” And I’m gonna go, “Oh, my God! I gotta go pick that up for you!” Because we know each other’s characters and how they would react, it makes it so much easier. But even to this day, when I do the card manipulation in the show, I still practice about 45 minutes before the show—breaking the cards in every day. It’s very much like a dancer, where they stretch and warm-up before a show… I warm-up my hands, I break the cards in. I give the cards what I call “memory”—where, when I do the routine over and over again, and I’m bending the cards a certain way, I’m bending the cards the way I need them to bend.
SANTODONATO: So you use new cards every day?
LEFEROVICH: Yes. And it’s interesting now, being at Planet Hollywood, the cards are actually a little bit thinner than the Tropicana (smiling) and it’s amazing how I can only do part of the routine less, because the cards are thinner—because my fingers got stronger with a thicker card at the Trop. So now, when I use the Planet Hollywood cards, there’s certain parts I can’t do as much. And it’s weird… I mean, every day I’m playing with playing cards, so you can tell. Even if it’s a slight difference, it’s amazing how you can tell.
SANTODONATO: Do you use the casino’s cards because they don’t want you to use a generic deck of cards?
LEFEROVICH: I always did it because we always got the cards for free. And after every show, at least 30 people asked us to sign the card. So it’s great branding for the hotel. I remember doing a show once, which was a private event. It was a couple of hundred people, carpet… and they said: “Oh well, you know… after the show, are you gonna go out and pick up the cards?” I go: “I guarantee you, at the end of the show, there will not be one playing card,” because it’s a cool souvenir. People don’t realize it’s one of the few things where the magic is actually me, not the cards. So I can go to Walgreen’s or anywhere and buy a deck of cards and do the same routine. So I think part of the novelty is people want to touch the card, because they think maybe the cards are the magic. They don’t realize it’s me spending hours and years practicing.
SANTODONATO: So what’s the hardest thing? Sleight-of-hand?
LEFEROVICH: I feel like it is, because it’s somewhat raw and stripped down. Like Murray does a thing now in the show where he escapes from Houdini handcuffs, and he says: “A lot of times you see a magician put his hands in a box, or he gets covered with a cloth. You think he like pops the handcuffs open with a button.” And he goes: “Today, I’m gonna show you, how I’m gonna escape. I’m gonna borrow a bobby pin from Chloe, and you’re gonna watch me pick the lock. The music starts and he actually sits there and he picks the lock, and he pops it open. And to me, I almost find that people think that’s more amazing—because they’re seeing it firsthand. You know, it’s like when I take a coin and I put it in your hand, and you close your hand and then you open it up and it’s gone. It’s more real because it’s in your hand. It’s intimate. Sometimes people go: “Oh, well… if I was on stage… with all that smoke and the lights and all… I could point… You’re not even really doing anything.” One of the reasons why people really enjoy the show is because we’re in a 300-seat intimate theater and they’re close. The stuff we’re doing is more amazing because you’re so close. So many times you see a magic show, and you’re far away, and you go: “Ah, if I was up close, I could figure out how it was done.” But because we’re doing stuff so close to the audience, I feel like there’s more of a “Wow” factor. There was a week at the Orleans where there was this talented singer, John Stephan, who was doing this Roy Orbison tribute. So I’m helping with the staging. I’m helping him because he’s from out of the country, asking him, “What do you need?” And he says to me, “I really want to have this one thing… and I don’t know if you can do it or not… but I want this one part of this song, where I end the song and rose petals fall. Is that something you can do?” I said, “Give me an hour.” He said, “What?!” I go: “Give me an hour.” In an hour, I go: “So, we can get rose petals, fire retardant paper, pink, white, red.” I said, “It can be done manually, at fan. I got three places in town.” He’s like: “It’s almost like you’re a drug dealer! Like I just ask you what I want.” I go: “If you have the money, I can probably get you anything you want.” And it’s amazing how over time I’ve established relationships with a lot of vendors in town. I can get you pretty close to your vision. But he couldn’t believe it. But the first time the rose petals blew out over the audience… You know, you forget. Why would he think: ‘Oh, it’s paper…it’s got to be fire retardant.’? But it has to be. People don’t realize, when they go to see Blue Man, when that paper goes over the audience, all that paper is fire retardant, because God forbid, that paper were to catch on fire, the whole theater would go up.
SANTODONATO: Is it difficult to have a relationship while being in entertainment?
LEFEROVICH: Yeah, it’s tough. I’ve dated people in the business who definitely understand certain aspects of it. And then I’ve dated people not in the business who understand other aspects of it, but they don’t get things, where sometimes you have access to a theater at weird hours… And it’s not that I don’t want to spend time with you, or I don’t want to go to dinner with your friends—this is when we have the time. I remember working on Boyz II Men. When I was lighting the show, there were times when they would do the show, and they’d have a comedian after, and we would go in at 1:00 in the morning, and light till 4 or 5:00am, and then get up and be back by 8:00 in the morning and keep lighting—just because that’s when the theater was available. During the day they use it for convention space and presentations, and then they have shows… You gotta get in there when you can. It’s easier now, because I’m not traveling so much. There was a time when I was traveling a lot, doing shows all over the world. And it’s tough when you have a job, for anyone—it doesn’t matter what your profession—if you’re traveling a lot, it’s hard to start a relationship. When you don’t see the person on a regular basis, it’s hard. And it’s a tough town… (smiling)
SANTODONATO: There are a lot of characters here, that’s for sure.
LEFEROVICH: (chuckles) Oh, yeah.
SANTODONATO: So comedy wasn’t always a part of your work?
LEFEROVICH: No. It’s not something that I always did. So when somebody says, “Oh, I thought the magic was great,” it’s still nice to hear, but it’s something I’ve worked on my whole life. So to go out on stage and do comedy bits with Murray, where I don’t have anything in my pockets, with no trick… I’m going out and doing a funny dance, or making a funny expression, or how I act, especially because I don’t speak on stage—I spend time reading the autobiography of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, watching old films like The Keystone Cops. You watch how, to me, all that comedy is timeless and still funny today. And because Vegas is an international market, it works with any language. When I do my comedy, you don’t have to speak English to understand what’s going on. And what’s interesting is, because of my facial expressions, the way we interact and the music—there are times where we speak to people after the show and they don’t even realize I’m not speaking. Because you see us interacting, and you know what I’m thinking or how I feel because of my expression, even though I’m not saying something. Sometimes I feel like people pay more attention because I’m not speaking—because if you’re watching someone and they’re talking, if you drop something and you pick it up, they’re just talking, you can just keep hearing what they’re saying—as opposed to me—if you look away, you’re missing what’s going on. It really focuses people to watch what I’m doing.
SANTODONATO: How’s the move working out at Planet Hollywood?
LEFEROVICH: It’s been great. Caesars Entertainment has been wonderful. There’s a lot of ticket brokers that have come on-board that I feel like, because we’re with Caesars Entertainment, I don’t know what the future holds, but I feel like if we ever decide to move from Planet Hollywood, it’s now easier to move to another Caesars property, because now we’re in the family. It’s been good for us in the sense of, because we were at the Trop for two-and-a-half years, we can go to ticket brokers, we can go Vegas.com or Tix4Tonite, and people go: “Hey, Murray. Hey, LEFEROVICH—how you doin? Oh yeah, you’re at Planet Hollywood now.” You don’t have to re-pitch them and re-train them to think: ‘Okay, what’s the show?’
SANTODONATO: Yeah, you had a good run at the Trop.
LEFEROVICH: Murray’s really great about getting on television. The slogan for the show is: “You’ve seen him on TV, now see him Live!” It’s amazing when he says: “How many people have seen me on Pawn Stars, Wizard Wars, or America’s Got Talent?” Most of the audience claps. I feel like that’s the one way he’s tried to separate himself from other people, in the sense of you’ve seen him on TV. You know he does good magic and it’s a funny, entertaining show—but people want to see the guy they know. It’s like Penn and Teller—I think they’re genius at marketing—very smart guys. But they’re choosing projects that are on television to keep them in the public eye—when Penn does Dancing With The Stars; when he did Celebrity Apprentice. They write for computer magazines. When Penn’s on CNN talking about whatever topic, it’s a way for people to go: “Oh, it’s those guys.” I tell people, even though they’re magicians, I don’t think of them as magicians—I consider them celebrities. I don’t think someone comes to town and goes: “I want to see a magic show—am I gonna see this magician, this magician, or Penn and Teller?” I think people come to town and they go: “Let’s go see Penn and Teller.” It’s not a toss-up between Penn and Teller and another magician. So in that respect they’re very smart guys.
SANTODONATO: So what is the end game for you?
LEFEROVICH: I guess most people in their job have an end goal, or something specific they want to achieve. They are so worried to get to that end goal that they often skip over some amazing things that happen on the way. For me, I am achieving goals all the time. One month I am sharing the stage with Larry King for his Cardiac Foundation charity in Washington, DC, the next month I am magic consultant for The Jacksons, then the next month I am sharing the stage with Alice Cooper and Johnny Depp, and then the next month I am a creative consultant for the release of the 2010 Ford Mustang, where they shut down the Las Vegas Strip—not to mention, performing magic in a show on the Las Vegas Strip for the last 3 years. So I’m not so worried about the end goal, as I am having so much fun on the journey to get to whatever that end goal is.