The next Evolution of Magical Performance.
I have recently written enthusiastic reviews of several magical productions that focus on short, focused appeal to essentially non-magician audiences. I am speaking of Monday Night Magic and Magical Nights in New York. In Las Vegas we have the highly successful show ‘Steve Dacri: In your Face,’ and Jeff McBride’s monthly extravaganza ‘Wonderground.’ I am yet to visit Boston’s ‘Mystery Lounge’ but my daughters rave about it and I can’t wait to attend their Tuesday night show.
Living in Las Vegas it is impossible not to notice the notice the sudden drop in the status and number (and numbers!) of magic shows on and around the strip. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the luster has vanished in magic shows quicker than a dove into Lance’s tail suit. Ah, I haven’t even mentioned the loss of Lance to the Vegas list of landmarks—because I suspect he will be back as quickly as he wants to. However, I also figure the poor guy needs a break for a while.
We are left with Criss Angel, who is considered by most residents as an embarrassment, and has had Cirque pull out their dancers from the show. In all fairness I have heard from many people that the Cirque element of the show was the weakest in their never-ending empire. Let’s be honest how many more Russian circus acts, pretending to be French Canadian can there be? They must run out eventually!
There are plenty of small ‘Four Wall’ magic shows that appear and disappear faster than Scarlett can throw a left hook. However, it is a long, sadway from the heyday of magic in the Neon City. I am tempted to say that magic really went into a hospice situation the day they removed the ‘Siegfried & Roy’ sign from the center of the strip. It was replaced by a billboard for the late Danny Gans and seemed to signal the start of the new era. Nowadays the only non ‘Cirque de Same’ shows seem to be dominated by impressionists and hypnotists. I think it is a shame, but then I’m a magician.
Maybe we had better start thinking of some well executed single night magic shows aimed at the general public. The Magic Castle has always proven an exception to all assumed rules about magic, a lot of this has to do with the brilliant Tom Sawyer ‘whitewashing the wall’ approach that Milt brilliantly built into the very roots of his brainchild. There really is no other performance venue capable of a seven day a week market.
Now, while this may seem a rather negative view of the magical state of the union, I really don’t think it is. I remember in the late seventies when my wife Susan and I co-opted the ‘Laugh Stop’ in Orange County (maybe the first one week/stay in a condo comedy club) and changing it every Monday night into the ‘Magic Stop’ We carefully replaced the pictures of comedians that adorned the walls with magic posters. We added two close-up tables and it became quite a success. In fact this once a week experiment developed fairly directly into the ‘Magic Island,’ which was owned by the same businessman.
Comedy Clubs came into being nationwide in a big scale in the early 80s when club owners realized they could replace a relatively expensive band, who needed lighting and sound boards, with a comic, a microphone and a spotlight. Plus they could clear the house and get two (or sometimes three) sets of paying customers a night. It was good business and blossomed spectacularly until the cycle played out. That is the nature of the entertainment business, just slightly more cyclic than the seasons!
There is not the same large-scale interest in magic that there was in comedy, mostly because we don’t get the TV exposure. However I believe it would be considerably more beneficial for our art form if there were more cities that featured ‘professional’ regular magic nights in established venues. It would also give the potential pros a chance to perform in front of real audiences, instead of inside the totally unrealistic hierarchy of a local magic club.
This would do some good in fact, because it would force the local magical collective to distinguish between real people magicians and magician magicians. It would give a new prospective on the local magic group and teach them more about the actual practicalities of performing professional magic than any amount of lectures where they sit around nodding sagely in agreement as they are told that it is entertainment that matters most. Actually it is the combination of the entertainment factor and good strong magic, but that’s another story, Or in the words of Buddy Young Jr; “Don’t get me started……”
I see signs of the green buds of a new beginning in the magic world. Think small but think quality, and realize that the coma in which magic has arrived in Las Vegas (except the irrepressible Amazing Johnathan!) might be the start of something better for regular high quality magic shows in cities across the country. This is what formed the comedy boom that created a tidal wave through nightclubs/discos in the 80’s, and there are lessons to be learned from that era.