David Blaine Live. My favorite magic show so far……..

•August 28, 2017 • 2 Comments

 

This review is based on David’s performance at the Moody Theater in Austin, Texas on July 18th 2017.

David Blaine Live: After a couple of decades as a television magician these words almost seem like an oxymoron. However, Blaine’s current 2017 North American, 40-city tour is proving so successful that anyone attending one of the events can assure you that he might well be the most effective live performers that magic has ever seen. The Austin City Limits Live–Moody Theater seats 2750 spectators, and is Austin’s premiere music venue. Blaine’s show on July 18th was a sold out event. Waiting for the show to begin there was no question that the capacity crowd was expecting something both different and special to take place, and they were certainly not disappointed.

Let me make it clear from the outset that I went into the concert as quite a fan of David Blaine, and his singular approach to entertaining with his curious blend of sleight of hand and endurance stunts. You really have to go back to the iconic Houdini to find a magician who has created something different enough to have audiences so totally baffled that they are left wondering if something quite beyond every day reality, or trickery, may be the key to his feats. David Blaine inspires an almost cult like following from his audiences by adding genuine mystery to his performance and persona. It shouldn’t, but probably does, need pointing out that magicians are the furthest distance possible from being Blaine’s strongest audience demographic.

The two-hour plus show contained many of Blaine’s signature pieces, and in Austin, Texas the running order comprised of the following:

1       Introduction video.

2       Folded card from sewed shut mouth.

3       Jigsaw puzzle prediction.

4       Psychic tapping/Paper cup roulette/Ice pick     through arm.

5       Guest set by Asi Wind.

6       Frog regurgitation/Ring on Coat hanger.

7       A 17-minute intermission.

8       Breath holding in tank.

9       Questions and answers.

10     Card trick with junior magician in audience.

Due to problems with the Fire Marshall, Blaine was unable to perform his amazing “water and kerosene” effect. In previous shows he had used this effect in the all-important second to closing position occupied by his underwater endurance stunt. I am not sure if he has been regularly performing both of these pieces in the course of the same show during the tour. However, my intent is to discuss the specific show that I saw, rather than the variations that have popped up along the tour. Most of the set pieces included in the show have been seen on his various TV appearances and can be found on YouTube in one form or another. I consider the structure of the show masterful, and in this brief review can only hope to hint at some of the strengths that the construction contained.

You will notice that I included the brief introduction video as an integral item in the make-up of the show. It incorporated a key framework to the show that was to follow and set the stage for a large part of the success of David Blaine’s approach to magic. I have long been a fan of the late, great mentalist Al Koran’s opening statement in his show. Koran freely mixed mentalism and stage magic in his “mind reading” show; in fact he frequently began his mentalism show by performing a Three Ring Linking Ring Routine. Koran preceded the ring routine by stating that in his performance he was going to mix items that were tricks and others that were not, and that he was going to start with a trick so that the audience could tell the difference. A brilliant opening statement that disarmed the audience while in no way interfered with anyone’s belief in his possible powers. Blaine’s ultra-cool opening video does much the same thing and firmly establishes an interesting and provocative overview of the dichotomy central to his work.

The blending of fairly traditional sleight of hand and the stunt/sideshow aspects of Blaine’s repertoire is much in evidence in his opening routine, and also the masterful manner in which he sets up his genuine Ice Pick Through Arm with the foam coffee cup roulette effect. A large part of Blaine’s impact on a lay audience is the way he shifts (without removing) the emphasis from “How a trick is done,” to “If a trick is done.” The only effect in Blaine’s show that resembles a conventional magic trick is the second effect where a spectator appears to freely select the one missing piece to a completed jigsaw puzzle. This was the one effect that I personally could have lived without, however, the impression on the audience was huge and the crowd enjoyed the subtle shout out to his current location.

One thing that can’t be overstated in discussing Blaine’s show was how superb the I-Mag and video assist was throughout the evening. The video images were crystal clear and covered the action whether it was a piece of thread, a needle, a deck of cards or a gigantic tank of water. I was in awe of the great work that the video team added to the mix in making every action and emotion crisply accessible to the live audience. The first time I ever saw video assist used onstage in a theatrical magic show was when Doug Henning had two giant TV sets brought out onstage at the Schubert Theater in Los Angeles back in the ‘70s. It was an innovative gimmick back then, but it is a necessary and stunningly effective tool in Blaine’s show.

The cameras were used as magnifying glasses for the magic while at the same time allowing Blaine to achieve a totally natural effect with his patented deadpan delivery. I was surprised and delighted to see how much laughter was involved in the show. It was fascinating to see the amount of natural humor that David created during the evening without once abandoning his character in order to tell an old fashioned joke. Blaine achieved an easy and accomplished rapport with his audience that was all the more impressive given the relative dearth of his previous live performances in large-scale theatrical venues.

The guest set by Asi Wind was a real highlight in the show, and Wind’s combination of sleight of hand and mentalism created a change in tone and texture that added greatly to the impact of the show in its entirety. Personally I have always disliked Rubik’s Cube magic with a passion, but in Wind’s hands I found myself shouting and applauding along with the rest of the crowd. Asi was smooth and strong in his segment and the crowd loved him.It was very apparent that David and Asi are good friends, and Blaine’s introduction of his guest made sure the audience grasped his role and place in the show. My wife, a 45-year veteran of attending magic shows that she usually doesn’t want to see, really enjoyed the entire evening much to her surprise. Susan, like myself, thought this was the best full evening magic show she had ever seen. However, she really made me laugh when she stated that watching David and Asi was like watching the ultimate magic nerds performing a great parlor show on a huge stage. I know exactly what she means, and it certainly wasn’t a negative comment; she just knows her magic really well!

Taking advantage of his brief break from the stage during Asi Wind’s set, Blaine did whatever the hell he needs to do to prepare for his astounding interlude with Candy his show stealing frog. The resulting routine is quite simply unbelievable, and with its recent TV exposure, may well have been the effect that the audience was most eagerly waiting for. Once again Blaine’s handling of his onstage audience volunteers was an exercise in relaxed but careful control. He managed to make the young couple appear relaxed in ridiculously non-relaxing circumstances, and extracted every last reaction from them without ever crossing any line in making them seem in any way exploited.

When the curtain reopened after the interval, a large, water filled tank was located center stage. Sitting on top of the tank was Blaine quietly taking puffs of oxygen from a tank while a video prepared the audience for the breath holding endurance stunt that was to follow. When magic enters into any of these “escape” like scenarios it usually means that the presence of Houdini will be invoked and probably one of his effects will be duplicated or (gasp!) improved upon. As Blaine makes clear Houdini was a childhood inspiration and a large part of his performing vision. Blaine seems very comfortable and understated in his realization that to current (and especially younger) audiences he has become the contemporary version of his childhood hero.

Magicians often seem to fail to realize that Houdini is not the same cultural icon to lay people that he is amongst the magic community. Like Blaine most of us spent our early years absorbing the Houdini myth. By removing the “escape” trimmings to his stunts, Blaine has created an entirely new form of entertainment in much the way Houdini did when he added the concept of escape to the lexicon of magical entertainment that existed in his own day.

The 10 plus minutes that David Blaine remained submerged under water were impressive, dramatic, eerie, and strangely meditative. The spectacle was profound and the staging was gloriously pure theater. The standing ovation that followed the demonstration was spontaneous and curiously transcendent, and much more fulfilling than I could ever have guessed it would be. After the stunt, David sat shivering, draped in towels on the edge of the stage for a Q & A session that was in turns inspiring, entertaining, informative, and revealing.

It was during this low-key interlude that I realized what a great sense of vulnerability Blaine was sharing with his audience. It was an element I had never really noticed in his TV work but illuminated the entire evening’s entertainment. It is not a quality that one much associates with world class magicians, and it was a powerful indication of why he has become such a mega star in the magic world. There was a true sense of sharing between Blaine and his audience, and it was very effective in the way it united all those present.

In a beautifully nuanced closing to his show, Blaine invited a young magician onstage with him and then helped him perform an effect for that huge audience as a finale to the show. Jackson, a fledgling 15-year old magician who shared the stage with Blaine in Austin, was so excited about what was happening that his hands were shaking wildly as he compulsively shuffled a deck of cards awaiting his instructions from his hero. Blaine whispered his instructions in Jackson’s ear and then stepped back and really did let him finish the trick to end the show. The moment was truly Jackson’s, and Blaine really allowed him to own it. The resulting standing ovation was a remarkably effective end to the show that said an awful lot about the true heart and spirit of magic. It may not translate into my words comfortably, but in live action and under the spotlights it was a true insight into what makes David Blaine magic’s first reality star.

If you have a chance to catch David Blaine Live I cannot tell you how strongly I recommend you take that opportunity. Just as David Blaine: Street Magic (1996) turned magic upside down with its understanding of how to blend the future trend of reality TV programming and variety entertainment, Blaine is blasting a new direction and pathway in the presentation of live magic. In the past 50 years I have only seen a handful of magicians perform a full evening theatre show; the others were Doug Henning, David Copperfield, Siegfried & Roy (at Radio City Music Hall), and Penn &Teller. Out of this distinguished group David Blaine delivered the performance that I consider the best, I can’t really say more than that.

Check out my another blog post I wrote about David Blaine  CLICK HERE

Waiting for the Post(man)!

•August 5, 2017 • 2 Comments

Upon becoming a magician you begin a lifelong pursuit of seeking out new tricks to perform. For me, as a youngster, this was accomplished by spending endless hours pouring over magic catalogues and deciding on the tricks one absolutely couldn’t live without. After sending away for it I would wait for the postman to deliver the precious box to my front door. My life as a magician began way before the instant gratification of instant downloads.

In retrospect the best part of this entire process was in fact the anticipation of the waiting. I would keep reading and re-reading the description of my latest purchase in the magic catalogue, visualizing every aspect of the next addition to my show. The entire process involved more anticipation than anyone could ever imagine.

Magic catalogues both then and now have a language all there own, and like Kris Kristofferson and Travis Bickle they are partly truth and partly fiction. Certain phrases are special flags to attract youthful customers. My favorites were; ‘Packs flat and plays big’, ‘can be performed surrounded’ and ‘Needs no re-setting’. There was usually a list of ways in which the trick was not accomplished. This often included; ‘No threads’, ‘No magnets’ and ‘No mirrors’. They also often threw in the phrase ‘No skill required’.

All this was enough to keep my mind racing for days. When the great day arrived and I finally ripped open the precious parcel my first reaction was usually sheer, stark disappointment. What was inside the package seemed like a waste of time and money and even if you could get it to work it wouldn’t fool the village idiot.

However one of the very early lessons in magic is that secrets cost money and you were stuck with it, because another ubiquitous phrase in magic catalogues was ‘No refunds and no exchanges’. Of course, magic dealers have to make their living somehow and I am not saying they are unscrupulous however I certainly wouldn’t let one of my daughters marry one of them. It was all enough to make you forsake magic and take up juggling or ventriloquism instead.

The strange part was that if you spent long enough with that seemingly useless trick, practicing and rehearsing it in front of a mirror, you sometimes ended up with something that actually worked! Not always, in fact not often, but every now and then you would end up with ‘a keeper’.

Even weirder was the way that sometimes a fellow magician would fool and impress you with a trick you had long since discarded either physically or mentally. That’s when you discovered that the magic dealer and postman may have brought the trick to your living room but it didn’t get much further unless you added a little something of your own.

It would be nice to say it all changes as you get older and wiser but it doesn’t. I have a garage full of props that seemed like a great idea when I purchased them. The older you get the greater the amount of money you spend on tricks you will never perform. Along the way though, there is something that does change, you start to develop a style and personality all you own. That is when the magic really begins to happen.

How does this subtle change occur? I believe that it has a lot to do with the power of visualization. While it is difficult to see the future, with a little practice you can sometimes observe yourself in the present and project that image into the future. Standing in front of mirror you can observe not just who you are, but who you wish to become, this is an ability shared by other performers. Just watch any actor who doesn’t think he’s being observed and you will notice they seldom pass a mirror without a very serious glance at themselves. Who knows maybe a little bit of time travel is involved in this simple action of observation.

Unless I am much mistaken the core message of my teacher is contained in just six words. ‘I am’ ‘I can’ ‘I wish’. It is the intensity and order with which you utilize these three forces that creates your future and turns visualization into reality. I could discuss these three forces in more detail but right now I want to see if the postman has delivered the mail. I am waiting for a package that contains a new trick that ‘packs flat and plays big.’


 

Magic Castle Revisited. Part Six.

•June 22, 2017 • 4 Comments

I couldn’t write this memoire without briefly discussing the joys of the numerous other characters who comprised the weave and fabric of the Castle in those joyous evenings back in the mid-seventies. It was always a pleasure to spend an hour in the Owl Bar drinking and listening to the deliciously barbed and acerbic comments of John Schrum. John was the art designer from the Tonight Show and could seemingly drink endlessly throughout the evening without ever appearing one iota inebriated. Perhaps you would spend time sitting at the main bar in the company of the incomparable Ron Wilson as he sat steadily sipping on glasses of scotch diluted with milk, while he shared his endless magical wisdom.

I always enjoyed joining Billy McComb, who would often be sitting at the Main Bar puffing away on his pipe, spinning a complicated yarn and performing one of his innumerable “Packet Tricks.” Billy was one of the many Irishmen who could consistently prove that it was speech and not silence that was golden. In the Hat & Hare Pub, Jules Lenier would amaze and amuse in the most maximum manner utilizing the most minimal of props. Later on as night advanced into morning, Jules could often be found telling tall tales of his early days in New York spent writing comedy with the likes of the great Jackie Mason.

In the Close Up Gallery or dining room Albert Goshman would often be found in a crumpled and greasy tuxedo working his wonders with coins and a saltcellar for astounded audiences. Perhaps later in the evening you could talk Tony Giorgio into reciting items from his repertoire of intriguing and authentic grifter poetry. Some nights you might even get to spend a few minutes chatting with Charlie Miller as he rushed around the Castle. Charlie, unlike most magicians, always seemed to be in a hurry as he passed through the Castle.

So many wonderful memories, with new ones being created nightly, no wonder the Castle was, and still is such a unique and beloved institution.

“As I sat in front of the Magic Castle on that 50th anniversary, I listened to the speeches mingling with the sound of the elaborate fountain directly behind us, and all these precious memories paraded through my mind as an entire separate panorama of reminisces and events. Are my memories bathed in a rosy glow of nostalgia? You bet they are. As I write this short memoir I am saddened to realize that everyone I have written about in this story, other than Milt Larsen, is no longer with us. Milt remains strategically center stage, as the ringmaster who created the ultimate magic circus and is unquestionably the man without whom the Magic Castle would have remained but a wistful dream.

 These particular memories are just joyous fragments and shadows of the past that I wanted to share with those who didn’t have the good fortune to be there in those golden years. Fortunately 40 years later the Magic Castle remains firmly in place creating fresh and vivid memories for entire new generations. The club is now more commercial, better run, and more successful than ever before and looks set to entrance magicians and their guests for another 50 years. The Castle has an indomitable life of its own, based squarely on the shoulders of the individuals who have brought it to life over the years. For me though I will always love it best in those earlier years when I was young.”

I  strongly encourage you to read Ron Wilson’s outstanding book “Tales from The Uncanny Scot,” which is an essential resource for anyone who truly wishes to understand the roots of the Magic Castle. There are still a few copies of this limited edition book available at http://uncannyscot.weebly.com


 

Magic Castle Revisited. Part Five.

•June 19, 2017 • 2 Comments

Further explorations in our retro Magic Castle tour.

The maître d’ in the dining room was Monty, who was a very important figure to impecunious conjurers such as myself. During those years a group of diners could hire a magician to perform at their table for 30 dollars. Many months when it was creeping perilously close to rent time, Monty would save the day for me. If I could score three “dinner shows” during the final week of the month then our 80-dollar rent was covered while still leaving a ten spot to give to Monty. I once performed a show in the dining room for my childhood hero Tony Curtis (Houdini to me), and after a 40-minute show he stiffed me for most of my fee by slipping a single five-dollar bill into my pocket as I left the table. Still, this was Hollywood, so being stiffed by a movie star was so much better than being stiffed by a regular Joe.

Looking back from the current day to the sepia past, I am also amazed at how keenly I remember the blue pungent haze of smoke that surrounded and almost obscured the various bars in the Magic Castle; whether it was, the numerous cigarettes, occasional fragrant cigar, or that grand old pro Johnny Platt puffing away at his pipe. Sometimes it was difficult to see even such substantial bartenders as Jimmy Campbell or Lauren through the curtain of smoke. I seem to remember that some of the younger members smoking less salubrious substances in the parking structure that was later to become the new “wing” of the Castle. I don’t have any personal knowledge of this, or then again perhaps my memories are just hazy.

One memorable Magic Castle highlight was the night the Los Angeles Fire Department closed down the Castle from business as usual. Unperturbed the management and magicians moved the shows and action into the parking structure where the magic continued unabated and without missing a beat. I was performing that night and it became a great story to embellish and share over the years. That particular evening is how I best like to remember Bill Larsen. Our President donned a spiffy tuxedo and played the elegant host for the entire evening, while the drab parking structure was transformed into the Magic Castle al fresco. It was a splendid occasion as the potential disaster was somehow miraculously transformed into an improvised triumph. I have always assumed that it was on that extraordinary evening that the idea for the Palace of Mysteries and the subsequent expansion of the clubhouse was born.


 

Houdini On Channel Four.

•June 16, 2017 • 2 Comments

I often find people who half remember the really cool starring role I had in an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents back in the ’90s. It was especially written for me by the Executive Producer Michael Sloan and was quite an acting stretch. The episode was all about Harry Houdini and featured some (at the time) very rare Houdini footage from the Manny Weltman collection. All the props in my Houdini Seance Room were authentic Houdini memorabilia from Abb Dickson’s collection.  If you haven’t seen it then you will enjoy it.

If you want to read more about the filming of this show check out the stories HERE 

 

 

Magic Castle Revisited. Part Four.

•June 15, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Are you ready to visit the 2nd and 3rd floor of the Magic Castle?

The third floor of the Castle contained the executive offices for the club and also, more importantly, its fine little library. The green baize table located in the center of the library was considerately placed there for magicians to baffle each other with their latest miracles. However, as every magician knew, the table’s real role was to house the never-ending hearts game between Vernon, Kuda Bux, Joe (The King of Cards) Cossari, and Joe Berg. The banter and bickering between these dear friends was always a delight to listen to. Many a young performer was happy to linger at the bookshelves pretending to study a complex book by Ed Marlo while actually eavesdropping on the Hearts game; trying to remember tidbits to casually impress their friends with at a later time. It was widely believed that any of players were free to cheat during the game, but faced extreme social disgrace from their contemporaries if caught doing so.

Coming down the little staircase from the third floor library, if you made a sharp right turn you arrived in the dining room at the Castle. During the ‘70s the Magic Castle didn’t feature quite the haute cuisine dining that has recently blossomed in our clubhouse, but even in those far away days it was a pretty impressive experience. The highlight of the menu was the delicious prime rib, or if you weren’t hungry enough for such hearty fare, you could dine scrumptiously on the Festal Board and the Castle’s award winning chili. A very significant part of each performer’s remuneration in those early days was receiving your dinner on the nights you officially entertained in the club. I would happily feast at the Festal Board and then return home with my prime rib (end cut) in a Bunny Bag; my wife Susan and I would share it for breakfast the next morning. Friday luncheon featured another special dining delight, when the kitchen would serve up all the delicious beef ribs that had accumulated during the week.

There were two other great reasons to visit the dining room at the Castle. The first was that whenever passing through the dining room I was able to enjoy a brief visit with Sandy Spillman, the resident host of the adjacent Houdini séance room. If there was a finer and kinder gentleman than Sandy in the magic world I am yet to meet him. As knowledgeable as he was modest, Sandy was a true prince of a human being.
We will continue our virtual tour of the ’70s era Magic Castle in the next post.


 

Magic Castle Revisited. Part Three.

•June 12, 2017 • 2 Comments

Get ready to explore the ’70s era Magic Castle a little further!

In the mid ‘70s the Castle was a demonstrably smaller space and contained just two show rooms: The Close-Up Gallery, and the Castle Cabaret. The Cabaret was a tiny theatre located in what had begun its life as the basement of the original building. It seated about 40 people in comfortable red velvet movie house chairs, and then another 15 or so people stood at the rear of the room. It was always referred to as the Big Room!

In my first week performing in the Castle Cabaret, sharing a bill with the delightfully enigmatic Kuda Bux, I had what remains to this day one of my headiest performing experiences. Prior to introducing the show, Don Lawton popped into my dressing room and with a twinkle in his eye casually informed me that Cary Grant was sitting with David Niven in the audience, and seated at the rear of the room were Ingrid Bergman and Goldie Hawn. Was I nervous? Oh yes…

After concluding a show in the Cabaret I would often make my way up to the Castle library to see what was happening there. There were two ways to navigate this particular journey; one was via the grand central staircase with its imposing grandfather clock. The clock was widely rumored to have stopped at the exact minute Jay Ose had shuffled off this mortal coil; actually I heard several names mentioned in this connection, but most frequently it was Mr. Ose. However, generally my preferred route upstairs was a detour that involved a short cut through the kitchen that allowed me a brief sojourn in the little room that housed Prof. Dave Bourne. Bourne was the genial bearded ragtime pianist who brought Irma to life on most nights. Dave was a Kenny Rogers look alike and the kind of man who improved any day just by spending a few minutes in his company. I spent many happy hours in Dave’s anonymous little hideaway eavesdropping on guests as they requested their favorite tunes.

Dave and I had become firm friends dating back to the period when he had accompanied the acts at Milt Larsen’s Mayfair Music Hall in Santa Monica. One evening while performing at the Mayfair my Zombie Ball had dropped to the ground in mid routine, and Bourne had been deeply impressed with the nonchalant manner in which I continued the routine using just the gimmick. I’m not sure if the audience saw me sweat during the incident but they certainly heard plenty of laughter emanating from the orchestra pit.

 

 

Next post we will explore the upstairs of the Castle!

 

 
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