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Rick Thomas watched in jaw-dropping awe as Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers had the crowd completely mesmerized by their masterful performance several years ago at the Long Beach Convention Center.

Thomas, the convention center director at the time, was blown away by the way the duo entertained at an extremely high level for two solid hours without ever taking their foot off the gas, and each member of the audience left with a smile on their face.

“I decided that night that I’d rather be on stage than working behind the scenes,” Thomas says.

Starting out as a magician at the Disneyland Hotel, Thomas has honed his craft for decades and through the years evolved into one of the greatest illusionists in the world. He displayed his remarkable skills in front of millions of fans during a 15-year run — performing a staggering 600 shows per year — at the biggest venues in Las Vegas, like the Sahara, Stardust, Mandalay Bay and Bellagio.

“It just grew from the hotel, to cruise ships and the famous clubs on the Las Vegas strip,” he says. “I’ve had an amazing life and illustrious career.”

He has been named “Magician of the Year” by the Academy of Magical Arts and “Illusionist of the World” by the World Magic Awards — the highest individual recognition bestowed in magic.

The Rick Thomas Magic Show performs shows (almost) daily at the Andy Williams Performing Arts Center in Branson, Missouri. Occasionally, he takes his show on the road.

Thomas will bring his “Nothing Happens Until You Dream” show for one performance at 7 p.m. Friday in the Marion Cultural & Civic Center. Ticket prices range from $27 to $75. For more information, contact the civic center at 618-997-4030.

Thomas stresses that there is a “big” difference between a magician and illusionist.

“A magician can make a coin disappear,” he says. “An illusionist can make a motorcycle disappear. We play with the big toys.”

Thomas blends magic, music and comedy together for 120 minutes of continuous action.

“The grand finale will send shivers down your spine,” Thomas says. “It will be an emotional moment that will burn into your memory. Some will stare in amazement and others will cry tears of joy. All night, people will think they have something figured out, but there is always a twist at the end.”

Thomas says despite the bawdy notoriety of the Las Vegas strip, his performance has always been appropriate for all ages.

“It had a reputation for being the most family-oriented show in Vegas. It was never a real Vegas show. It was always a family show,” he says.

The luster of Sin City for Thomas wore off as the town expanded.

“The drive from home to work started out being 20 minutes one way and as the building continued, the trip stretched to more than 45 minutes,” Thomas says. “I didn’t like the drive keeping me away from my family two extra hours every day.”

In 2012, well-know entertainer Andy Williams died and his famous 2,000-seat Moon River Theatre in Branson needed a new tenant.

Thomas says the location was a perfect fit because the Ozark tourist haven craves entertainment diversity. The magic show blends seamlessly with overflowing contingents of craft and music lovers.

In a town synonymous with traffic jams, Thomas says local knowledge is priceless.

“I can use the back roads and get from my house to the parking lot in five minutes,” he says. “The theater is perfect for me because they expect a variety show and that’s what I deliver. Every so often, we close for a couple days and take the show out on the road.”

A highlight of the Marion show will be when Thomas randomly selects a little boy out of the audience and shows him how to make a girl float in thin air.

“It will be life-changing for the kid. He will get to do something that he will remember forever,” Thomas says. “The entire show is designed to be captivating. Eyes will be glued to the stage as people try to figure out what they just witnessed.”

Thomas has taken his highly successful show on five world tours that have traveled to 50 different countries. He has appeared on television countless times, including the three major networks, plus the History Channel, Hallmark and the Discovery Channel.

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VINCE HOFFARD can be reached at 618-658-9095 or vincehoffard@gmail.com.

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