‘The magic will live on’

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The long-running SandCastle magic show will end its 16 years of bringing entertainment and delight to Saipan with a final show on March 31, 2018. The show’s closure is being deemed a “natural expiration” as its lease with Hyatt Regency Saipan is up.

The show, which debuted in Guam on Dec. 17, 1990, and extended to Saipan in 2002, was made possible by the Baldyga Group of Guam. Mark Baldyga, Baldyga Group chairman and CEO, said his vision was to bring world-class American entertainment to the Micronesia region.

“Our first show [in Guam] was called American Glitz, which we presented as a ‘Las Vegas show.’ Our nightclub was presented as a ‘New York-style’ discotheque. It was all about bringing a taste of America to a U.S. destination for Asian visitors,” he said.

“…Our company motto is ‘once-in-a-lifetime, every time!’ and I love watching the faces of customers, especially children. That, in a way, is its own reward. …We are fortunate and blessed to be able to do something we enjoy and love,” he added.

In hindsight, Baldyga seemed made for the entertainment business. He began studying music at the age 4 and was already performing even before reaching the age of 10.

“By high school, I was studying and recording in New York, performing in the Boston Youth Symphony and touring Europe and the U.S. In college, I studied classical music performance, conducting and composing,” he said.

“After graduation I was working as a musician in New York City when I responded to an ad seeking piano players for Guam. I performed as a piano player in the Hotel Okura lobby lounge during the summer of 1987.”

It was that summer that Baldyga came up with the idea that eventually became the SandCastle magic show production.

“At age 24, I sought an investor and obtained $32-million project financing, designed the building, supervised construction, produced the show, hired the staff, and opened the business in 1990.”

“Eventually I bought out the original investor and expanded to add SandCastle Saipan, BIG Sunset dinner cruise, Ride the Ducks, Taotao Tasi island show, The Beach Bar and Restaurant, etc. We now have 400 team members,” he added.

The company wanted a different product on Saipan—a smaller, “cabaret” version of its Guam show—and the concept was immediately embraced by residents and tourists.

“For those who haven’t been to SandCastle Guam, it’s quite different. In Guam, we have a very large physical plant on nearly four acres of property with a production kitchen, grand hall, and a stage facility larger than any on Broadway in New York,” he said.

“By contrast, on Saipan we simply took a small semi-outdoor discotheque inside a hotel and created a magic showroom. We wanted to design a venue that was well suited for magic, including close-up magic [like in SandCastle Guam] and to present American entertainment for both visitors and residents alike.”

Opening the SandCastle show on Saipan was not without its challenges.

“The resources are sparse, especially for a professional stage operation. Everything needs to be flown in. Like all tourism businesses on Saipan, we faced market challenges, yen devaluation, increased regional competition, storms, and so forth,” he said.

“Fortunately, we were already familiar with most of the challenges, having operated in Guam since 1990, and so we were well equipped to work through them.”

Baldyga recalls that when the curtains first opened on SandCastle Saipan, the experience was different compared to when the show opened in Guam.

“The venue is intimate and personal and I was very proud of what our team was able to accomplish on Saipan. It is not easy to produce world-class products given the scarcity of resources. But it was a team effort and I was proud of the team,” he said.

“With the exception of the performers, we had all local hires. We trained the stage crew and everyone involved in the operation. I am quite proud of that as I was also very appreciative of the local support, which we had from the day we opened until now. Saipan has been very good to us and we appreciate it,” he added.

With the lease agreement with Hyatt Regency up, renewing was no longer feasible for the Baldyga Group.

“It was initially a 10-year lease and Hyatt extended the lease repeatedly year after year. The decision to not further extend the lease was actually Hyatt’s decision and not ours,” Baldyga said. “We would have gladly continued the operation and it is my understanding that the hotel now wants to use the space as a banquet and event room. That’s perfectly understandable. …Hyatt has been a great partner and we appreciate their support over the years.”

SandCastle show might be saying goodbye, but not Baldyga. He promises to return to Saipan to offer new entertainment that is in tune with starting a new journey on island.

“We are just a short hop away and we are still here in spirit. I’ll personally continue to visit the island and, when the time is right we will look forward to bringing something new and exciting to Saipan,” he said. “It’s probably time for something new as customers and markets evolve. If and when we return to Saipan, it will be some form of entertainment but it likely won’t be a magic show,” he said.

“… We love and appreciate Saipan… It’s a warm and charming place filled with good people… we will be back for that,” he added.

Bea Cabrera
Bea Cabrera, who holds a law degree, also has a bachelor's degree in mass communications. She has been exposed to multiple aspects of mass media, doing sales, marketing, copywriting, and photography.

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