Lynette Chappell needs no mirrors, threads or even sleight-of-hand to perform magic. Yet some of her illusions go unnoticed by even the most scrupulous audience.

Miracles Offstage

By Amy Stevens

Another sellout crowd fills the Frontier Hotel's showroom. More than 1,000 Las Vegas visitors squeeze inside and huddle close together as they sit by the long narrow tables to see the undisputed number-one-rated show on the strip.

Behind the curtain the stage manager announces the time over the backstage intercom. It's 10 minutes before curtain. With performance so close, the whirlpool of Siegfried and Roy's "Beyond Belief" show has drawn cast and crew into its powerful current. People finish last minute tasks and take their places on stage.

A wardrobe assistant helps Lynette Chappell into an $8,000 jeweled gown - when the phone rings. The voice on the other end says: "Mombasa is zooming toward your dressing room!" The young, black Nubian lion has just knocked over his water bowl. His feet are wet, so Lynette grabs a towel and thrusts it toward one of her staff who runs to the animal and wipes his paws so he doesn't slip.

Perhaps no other principal dancer on the Las Vegas strip needs to worry about the fate of a four-year-old feline or the welfare of a dozen other exotic and domestic animals. But Lynette is more than a solo performer in a theatrical extravaganza which features the world's most successful magicians, according to a quote from GEO magazine.

"She's our right-hand coordinator and our voice. Her main show is not in front of the curtain; it's behind stage," says Siegfried. He admits her role defies a job description. He calls it a 24-hour lifestyle requiring complete dedication.

Her official title is coordinator of events for Siegfried and Roy Enterprises, Inc. But in the true spirit of the magicians, what she actually does far transcends the title.

The projects which Siegfried and Roy deem important - whether theatrical, business or personal - come under her protection. Her responsibilities range from knowing the dietary needs of a duck to finalizing contracts for the purchase of new business properties or organizing a reception for 650 magicians at Siegfried and Roy's estate.

"It's all or nothing with me," she says. "I was trained by extremely strict Russian-educated teachers and that discipline carries on to how I am today." Having already spent the early part of the afternoon in meetings, she arrives backstage at 4:30 p.m. for the interview. She expects her work at the theater to last beyond 3 the next morning.

To the almost 2,000 people who see her perform nightly, she's a strikingly attractive, talented dancer. Her sister-in-arms, Carol Roy, claims she's one of the most ethereal beauties on stage. Others who know her well openly say that disarming good looks is only one of the assets she possesses. "Lynette is more than a stunning woman," says Siegfried. "In any situation, her manner and style reflect a true professional."

"She never misses a trick," continues Carol, who's known in the magic profession as "Mrs. Electric". "No one in theater has more discipline and stamina than a dancer. So Lynette's used her training to always look radiant on stage and be smart backstage."

Yet, even with popular opinion riding in her favor, Lynette is an unsung heroine in the magic world.

Her longtime friend, Irene Larsen, can't recall ever seeing Lynette take a bow. "She's full of admiration for Siegfried and Roy and believes that they are the best magicians in the world. And although her charm and talent are a tribute to magic as well, she's much more content to be in the background."

Lynette agrees. "Although I admire many magicians, I don't have a great deal of knowledge about magic," she says. "I consider myself a student of the art with Siegfried and Roy as my teachers."

Yet to the many striving students of legerdemain, Lynette's career illustrates the pinnacle of success.

Her dressing room, consistent in a floral pattern that adorns the walls, couch and chairs, proudly displays a panoply of photos with Lynette posing with international royalty, Hollywood luminaries and her animal costars. The Las Vegas community has enhanced Siegfried and Roy as its goodwill ambassadors, allowing Lynette to become friends with kings, queens, foreign diplomats, domestic and foreign dignitaries and celebrities. Twice a night she helps weave a path of intrigue through a two-hour testimony to the art of magic and entertainment.

The audience sees Lynette perform six illusions: the "Death Defying Crystal Chamber," the "Hindu Basket," the "Spiker Box" and a combination of levitation, "Thin-Model Sawing" and "Asrah Levitation and Vanish" (see blue box).

Johnny Gaughan, mastermind behind the most impressive stage effects of today and builder of the illusions for Siegfried and Roy, admires her onstage deftness. He claims to have never seen an illusion the 5'8" dancer couldn't master.

It's an attitude that allows Lynette to fit into illusions that 5'5" assistants can't do. It's incredible. She seems to melt into them," he says.

She developed claustrophobia, once - but humorously adds that it wasn't helping the show so she gave it up. Her quick wit beguiles just as her dancing entertains.

Noted comedienne Pam Thompson, who with her husband John make up the Great Tomsoni & Co., pays tribute to Lynette. "Not since Dante's assistant, Moi-Yo Miller, has a woman shared the spotlight with such poise and grace on stage. But what's just as impressive is Lynette's warm sense of humor offstage."

Offstage, Lynette's dressing room is tucked behind the Frontier Showroom's main curtain, and continuously buzzes with excitement throughout the work hours. Members of the cast pop in to say hello, rummage through her makeup drawers as if they were home and on request bring her half glasses of coffee. Her wardrobe assistant parades costumes in and out, the company manager gives her updates on the staff and the phone rings incessantly. She admits she's used to working in total confusion. Amid this activity, she easily makes the transition from scheduling meetings for the magicians to arranging limousine service, dinner and complimentary theater tickets for a friend of Siegfried's.

"I think the schedule's easier on her now because she's streamlined the details to fit her style," remarks "Beyond Belief" dance manager Maureen Owen. In the beginning she was concerned about talking to bankers about escrow accumulation and to lawyers about contract addenda. All that's behind her now.