The Chicago Magic Lounge. A great spot to catch a magic show.

•August 9, 2018 • Leave a Comment

There is a great new magic venue opened this year in Chicago. Recently Susan and I had a chance to visit it in the fine company of Sandy Marshall. I wanted to share some of the details with my blog readers.

Situated at 5050, N. Clark Street, Chicago, Illinois, The Magic Lounge occupies the original location of a 1940’s era commercial laundry. When you first arrive at the Lounge a speakeasy-style entrance to the location is the first surprise that greets a visitor, and is very, very cool; in honesty, it makes the sliding bookcase that guards the Magic Castle seem pretty hokey. It would be unfair, albeit extremely tempting, to describe all the details involved in entering the Lounge as it certainly sets the stage for the fun evening that follows. However, I will let you explore this entertaining divertissement personally when you have a chance to visit the Lounge for yourself. Once you enter the inner sanctum of the C.M.L. you find yourself in David’s Bar, a sophisticated art deco speakeasy-style bar that features close-up magic in a nicely designed performance area housed within the confines of the bar. The area holds 34 people who can enjoy signature cocktails as they watch some excellent close-up performers and bar style magicians rotating throughout the evening. The night we attended Jeff Bibik and Deven Brown were both doing a great job entertaining the crowds in the bustling Performance Bar.

Nestled next to David’s Bar is the Chicago Round Table Library, which takes its name from the world-famous magician’s luncheon group that in former times gathered to admire Harry Blackstone, Jay Marshall, Bert Allerton, Matt Schulien, Ed Marlo and various other luminaries’ latest feats of sleight of hand. Behind appropriately locked cabinet doors are magic books from the library of Walter Gibson available for the legitimate magicians connected with the Lounge. Here and elsewhere in the Lounge the walls are adorned with historic and original artwork and posters. The décor manages to remain pleasantly contemporary in spite of the various antique elements, I found this very agreeable and to my mind preferable to the ‘faux Victorian’ appearance that seems to be standard fare whenever magic is involved. This outer ring of the Lounge is a perfect spot to meet up with friends and savor a cocktail or two before entering the next performance areas of the Magic Lounge.

Upon leaving David’s Bar (going any further requires a paid admission of about $35-$55 for the Signature Show) your next stop is The Harry Blackstone Cabaret, which is the main performance area in the Lounge. This elegant cabaret/nightclub style showroom houses 120 people in comfortable seating, in which everyone has a great view of the stage. The show we attended featured Nick Lacapo and James Sanden who combined talents to present an enjoyable one-hour show. The musical MC was John Sturk and his good-natured authority as host combined with his skill behind his keyboards added greatly to the performance. It was great to see live music incorporated as a part of the entertainment program.

The Harry Blackstone Cabaret is substantially larger than the Magic Castle’s Palace of Mysteries but very much designed as a cabaret with continuous cocktail/food service. The access to the audience was excellent but from the mezzanine one rather lost track of any performer who ventured too far back into the main body of the showroom. For sheer enjoyment, I actually feel that the less expensive seating on the floor holds some definite advantages over the mezzanine location. To my performer’s eyes, it also seemed that the stage might require a (or a more dedicated) backstage staff member to facilitate the setup and striking of props for the show. On this particular night, both performers seemed more concerned with clearing their props than taking an effective bow after their sets, which is a shame as both received excellent reactions. These are still early days though and I am sure that these kinds of details will soon be resolved. Throughout the week there are various types of events, including a family show, featured in the entertainment line up. To get further details about performers, times and pricing I suggest you consult the Lounge’s website at https://www.chicagomagiclounge.com

After watching the Signature Show, we were part of the lucky ones who, for an additional $10 charge, move deeper into the Lounge to the 654 Club, their nicely appointed formal close-up gallery. Yes, that’s right the 654 Club is named after the club in the famous Sam The Bellhop routine. This showroom seats 43 guests and is nice, and spaciously, designed to make viewing sleight of hand magic intimate and enjoyable. We saw a performance by Frank Foti whose combination of strong magic and a very likable performing style reverberated extremely well with the audience. The performing area in Club 654 is poised in size somewhere between the Close-Up Gallery and the Parlor of Prestidigitation at the Magic Castle. If this space is going to be primarily devoted to table work then it would certainly add some visual punch if video assist was added to the proceedings.

What I found most interesting throughout the evening was the youthful and highly enthusiastic audience that the Lounge attracted. I got the impression that the club’s demographic was that of Millenniums and younger generations that have grown up as Harry Potter fans since their early years. Proudly flying their Muggle flags, the audiences were great magical spectators and seemed to be wildly enthusiastic about all the magic they witnessed throughout the evening. This enthusiasm was contagious and as a somewhat jaded magician, it was very enjoyable to be part of the freshness that this youthful dynamic presented. The Lounge has enjoyed capacity attendance since their opening in February and I predict it will gracefully transit from its current “latest thing” success into becoming a very strong and long-term player in the Chicago nightlife scene.

Food and drink prices are very reasonable at The Chicago Magic Lounge and I highly recommend that if you find yourself in Chicago you take the time to visit it. We had a very enjoyable evening and the overall friendliness and casual good nature of everyone involved in the Lounge was a strong plus point. The venue has found a surprisingly sweet spot in its size and format, which coupled with well-planned showrooms and general design make it a great destination for the magically inclined. I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to find this format duplicated in other major cities across the United States that have the local talent to maintain an effective roster of magical performers. The Lounge seems to have established a business plan that is welcoming local magicians as the mainstay of their talent pool and combined with their attendee demographic this seems like a pretty good move. To read more about the Lounge and the various other elements it contains I suggest you check out their website at https://www.chicagomagiclounge.com


 

Backstage with the Legends of Comedy Magic.

•August 7, 2018 • Leave a Comment


                                                                           Photo by Michael Messing

I was very excited when Michael Finney told me that he was going to serve as President of the International Brotherhood of Magicians. I have enormous respect for Michael and a friendship that dates back decades. Very few magicians are more no-nonsense, dedicated professionals than Finney and I was immediately excited, not just for Michael but for the breath of fresh air he would deliver to this venerable organization. Sometimes long-established groups need to get a bit of a shakeup to get them back on contemporary paths. With a love of magic, backed up with a heart the size of a mountain, I have no doubts that Finney is the right man to achieve great things in his year as President.

It was with pleasure that several months later I received a late night call from Finney asking me if I would participate in his July 2018 inaugural convention in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Michael wanted to feature an opening night gala called “The Legends of Comedy Magic,” and the proposed cast was Finney, Pop Haydn, Larry Wilson, Jeff Hobson and myself. Would I participate in this bill? You bet! Not only were these four performers people I deeply respected, they also happened to be good friends. One of the sad truths about being a comedy magician is how seldom you get to perform with your direct contemporaries.

Generally speaking in a magic or variety show the logical decision has been to emphasize the variety of the acts being presented. A typical magic gala features a smorgasbord of magic acts with the guy who has the biggest props closing the bill. There is generally one comedic magician and he gets to slice up his show into MC sized segments. This format works fairly well but seldom allows the comedy magician the chance to showcase his talent to maximum effect. I have fulfilled this function in magic shows ranging from “It’s Magic” to local conventions and know pretty much the way it goes. On hearing Michael’s plan I was immediately intrigued to see how an all-comedy gala show would work out. I really couldn’t have anticipated what a smooth and successful experience it would prove to b

The bare bones and details of our show were resolved within a couple of emails and a minimum of fuss. Michael was to host the show and chose to highlight his formidable stand up skills in this role and leave the magical spotlight on his guests. The rest of us “Legends” were each going to perform a 20-minute set. Everyone quickly and cheerfully chose material that did not duplicate or even overlap with anyone else’s choices. The lack of ego and matter of fact professionalism with which this was accomplished boded well for the upcoming show.  In fact, it proved to be the keynote of the entire event.

Now let’s flash forward to July 5th, the day of the show. The five of us performers gathered outside the Amway Grand Plaza to take a shuttle to the Grand Rapids Civic Theater for our rehearsal. It was fun to observe the minimal amount of props that were being transported to the 750-seat theater for our evening’s performance. A briefcase, a couple of paper sacks, and a few hanging clothes were about the sum total of our accumulated props. I have often stated if only to irritate my illusionist friends, that in magic you either have props or talent. Looking around at the meager items that comprised our collective props I had to grin. I have seen many a 12-minute manipulative act travel with four times this amount of props to entertain their audiences. I have always been a proud proponent of the “less is more” school of magic. Of course, you don’t carry personality in prop bags and I was fully aware of where the strengths of our specific cast lay.

The rehearsal was an object lesson in knowing what you needed and being prepared in advance so you could quickly and easily achieve it. The sound check and lighting the show was fast easy and painless: the IBM/theatre team was efficient and for a magic convention very organized. In about a third of the allotted time, we were all on a shuttle back to the hotel for a short pre-show rest. The nice part of working with such pros was that nobody was at that rehearsal to rehearse their actual performance; everyone understood that it was all about making sure everyone involved was on the same page. The very best rehearsals have no surprises and no drama. I have never subscribed to the “good rehearsal—bad show/bad rehearsal —good show” cliché.

I hope I don’t need to issue a spoiler alert before progressing with this story if I tell you that the show was a smash hit. Instead, I think it might be more useful to try and tell you why things went so smoothly and achieved such a strong reaction from the capacity audience. The show featured a strong team spirit coupled with an easy-going professionalism that turned getting things right into fun. One of the biggest problems facing a professional performer is acquiring the experience that is needed to make things run smoothly without losing that “fun” element. That night the atmosphere backstage was as friendly and relaxed as you could ever hope to find and all thoughts were about the overall show and not the individual performers. In the green room, everyone enjoyed discussing and sharing stories about various other comedy magicians and friends we all knew could just as well have been classified as “Legends.”

Michael had assembled a cast that was composed of very different individual personas onstage. Not only was there no duplication of magical effects onstage, but there were five performers who each had such a clear-cut personality that their contribution was strictly unique. Everyone there was comfortable in his own skin both on and offstage. It was interesting to observe that as everyone donned their rather distinctive stage costume they didn’t seem to change into “someone else” for the show but rather to become a more fully realized version of their own offstage personalities.

Finney very wisely limited his participation during the show to be the perfect host. Michael kept the show moving at a brisk pace with comedy material that got big laughs and went right on getting them as the evening progressed. His introductions of the performers were a perfect mix of the personal and professional: never a word too many or a moment too long. Finney was the glue that made the show so outstanding. In a show where each of the participants could have delivered a one-hour-plus of headliner material, everybody involved stuck to their time like clockwork. The mark of true professionals is their ability to keep to their time in a show like this. Five extra minutes of self-indulgence can throw off the careful mechanism that turns a good show into a great one. Michael sat in the wings throughout the show with his cell phone set to timer mode ready to adjust his contribution as needed.

I kicked off the show with twenty solid minutes of stand-up material that managed to incorporate the Spot Card, Burnt and Restored Bill and Slow Motion Newspaper routines without ever slowing down the laugh per minute ratio. The evening was to feature many more classic magical effects and it showed that in the right hands there is a good reason for these effects longevity. I was delighted with the reaction I received and it got the show off to a great start. After fifty years of performing, I am now managing to achieve my long-term goal of letting everything happen with no apparent effort on my part.

Larry Wilson, wearing his trademark white tail suit followed with a set that was as polished as it was effective. He performed a Vanish Glass, Tossed Deck and “Famous Magician’s School” mindreading effect and received a big ovation for his outstanding combination of strong magic and visual comedy. Larry has a lively intelligence that shines through during his show and the twinkle in his eyes and his wordsmith use of dialogue make him an outstanding performer. Since I arrived in America in 1974 I never remember a time when Larry wasn’t working a great gig somewhere. When you watch Larry work you understand why.

Pop Haydn followed Larry with a really strong four trick set that put on display his outstanding skills as a magician. With Pop, it was the situational comedy and careful wordplay that added big laughs to his classic quartet of 6 Card Repeat, Color Changing Scarf, Mongolian Knot and Linking Ring Routine. Watching Pop onstage with a youthful volunteer as they combine forces on Pop’s masterful Ring routine should convince any skeptical magician that this particular classic has plenty of prime performing years still ahead of it. Pop’s attention to magical detail makes him a distinctive and popular addition to any magical event, he has thought out every detail and it shows.

Bringing the show to its close was the hilarious antics of Jeff Hobson. Hobson has created one of the most inspired onstage personas in the magic world. With just a raised eyebrow or by pursing his lips, Jeff can deliver big laughs. Hobson has the audience nestled in the palm of his hand before he has completed his opening words. Never to be underestimated is the strength of magic that Jeff brings to the table in his shows. On this occasion, Hobson performed his unique and hilarious egg bag routine, a thumb tie routine and a very distinctive Gypsy Thread accompanied by an extremely clever storyline. Jeff was the perfect conclusion to a beautifully balanced and calibrated evening of comedy magic and he had the audience in stitches for his entire set.

I look back on this show with a great deal of satisfaction. I often get the feeling that comedy magic is somewhat misunderstood and underrated in the magic community. To be a commercially successful comedy magician takes a great deal of skill and a level of performing awareness that equals any branch of magic. There was a great deal of technical skill on display throughout the show presented that evening, but it was usually layered under the filter of a contemporary comedic performance. Not one move or word during the evening just “happened” it was as meticulously planned as an award-winning manipulative performance. The topical and “convention” jokes were as carefully written, rehearsed and executed as any piece of “finger flinging” by a FISM winner, they were merely designed to look casual.

To keep a theatre full of people laughing uproariously for 100 minutes is quite an achievement and between us, we demonstrated that when strong magic and strong comedy go hand in hand it is the audience that is the winner. I could not have been more proud to be working with this bunch of world-class performers.  The show went like clockwork and throughout all the laughter that was created during the show, there were NO political references, NO off-color humor, and nothing racist or sexist present in the dialogue or actions. It was nice to be part of a team that worked exclusively to be inclusive of the audience rather than allows divisive elements to undermine or define the laughter that was created.

Thank you, Mr. Finney, for creating this quietly unique opportunity to so effectively showcase our particular genre of magic. I had never considered myself a “Legend of Comedy Magic” —heck it makes me feel kinda’ old even thinking about it! However if this is what it feels like, then count me in anytime.


 

 

Johnny Carson Does Some Card Magic!

•June 5, 2018 • 4 Comments

Yup, Johnny Carson really was a magician. He started out at 11 and was a magic fan all his life. He worked his way through college doing a comedy magic act. This is some recently released footage of Carson doing the classic Cards to Pocket on the Jerry Lewis telethon. It is really fun!

About 33 years ago I had an interesting experience once when I was performing at the big NBC Affiliates meeting in LA. I was part of the big production event in the meeting and then all the NBC stars (from Johnny to Steven Spielberg) were trotted out to say hi to the various NBC station owners from around the country. None of the stars looked too happy about it but they all knew where their paychecks came from.

I was performing a series of illusions, including a rather unusual flaw production of my female assistant, from a very unusual prop that I had just purchased in Germany. While all the celebrities were waiting backstage to make their appearance, Johnny noticed the illusion and made a beeline over to check it out. We spent a delightful ten minutes as I showed him the prop and how it worked. He was very charming and TOTALLY interested in all the magician stuff involved. He was a true blue magic hobbyist for those ten minutes. It was the only time I ever spent with Mr. Carson. I relish the memory.

Nick Lewin and Little Jewford’s “Tricks andTunes” Live in Austin.

•May 31, 2018 • 2 Comments

“Tricks & Tunes.” June 5th at The Backstage in Austin.

An Awesome Evening of Magic, Music and Comedy.

I am delighted to announce the next gig from Nick Lewin and Little Jewford will be on June5th at The Backstage in Austin. We will be working with the wonderful Durawa Band. This video gives a taste of our live show…

You can get more details from our website just  CLICK HERE

 

 

Some more thoughts on my Non-Tossed Deck routine.

•May 26, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Detailed insights into my Non-Tossed Deck

To purchase this routine  CLICK HERE 

The AMA Award Show Downtown, and Shimada at the Magic Castle.

•May 4, 2018 • Leave a Comment

One of the delightful “extras’ to attending the Academy of Magic Arts recent Awards Ceremony on April 22nd was the opportunity to have dinner at the Magic Castle on Monday the 23th. Susan and I were in town to cheer on our dear friend Ray Anderson who was being awarded a Performing Fellowship at the Awards Night. We formed our core little Texan group for the Castle dinner with Ray and his husband Steven Michael Miller and Mark and Sue Holstein. The Sunday night festivities had included a fun pre and after award show party at the Magic Castle in addition to the the highly enjoyable awards show at the delightful Orpheum Theatre in Downtown LA.

Like all award shows this one ran a little too long. I must say that this one ran the shortest amount too long of almost any I have seen! Erika Larsen did a great job producing the show and her daughter Liberty kinda’ stole the show with her two vocal contributions.It was great to catch up with old friends from my Castle years. Having been a member since 1974 a lot of my early friends are now no longer with us, but the occasion gave one the opportunity to remember friends like Bruce Cervon, Billy McComb, Ron Wilson, Jules Lenier, Das Vernon, Charlie Miller and many others. There was also a fine assortment of old and new friends in attendance too catch up with and it was great to catch up with friends like, Johnny & Pam Thompson, John Carney, Paul Green, Marvin Roy, Mark & Nani Wilson and many others.

Following a great dinner at the Castle on Monday evening, we caught the first of six special performances in the Palace of Mysteries by the legendary Shimada. What a joy to watch this master of his craft performing again at the Castle. The very first time I saw him perform, with his partner Deanna, was in the very intimate Magic Cabaret at the Castle. They were a real eye opener to a young Brit magician. We went on to perform several times together, most memorably in Las Vegas and Hawaii and I will have to write a blog post about those two quite remarkable dates at some future point. But all those memories came rushing back sitting in the Palace of Mysteries watching the Grand Master perform. Did it seem the same watching Shimada without Deanna? No not really, they were truly one of the greatest equal partnership teams in magic. Sadly, Deanna is no longer with us and has joined my other dear friends who are now happy, vivid memories of when the Castle was younger, less well organized and even more fun. It was great to see the family legacy continue with the presence of Shimada and Deanna’s daughter Luna. She has the uncanny ability to remind me of both her parents at one and the same time, and that is one heck of a lot of charisma!

 

 

Shimada performed his immaculate manipulative and dove magic in the Palace that night. As fine and wonderful as his magic is, it has always been his unique presence and awareness of his uniqueness that have placed him in a different league to almost any other performer of his type. It isn’t the incredible and flawless appearance of the dove that makes his act so special, it is the way he acknowledges the audience’s reaction to its arrival that stamps Shimada as being one of the truly groundbreaking and one of a kind sensation. There is an indefinable class and attitude to his work and style that have left generations of lesser performers grasping for invisible straws if they try to duplicate it. It was great to see the 77 year old master at work, drawing gasps and applause as if they were a birthright. Maybe they are.

 

 

Well, it was a wonderful couple of days in LA and hat’s off to everyone involved with the Award Show (Thanks for the shout out in the script David Regal—a ’70s picture of my with a tightly curled “Afro” hairstyle earned me a nod from host Larry Willmore as an early inspiration to other African American magicians!) and the entire Magic Castle team who proved that you really can improve on every aspect of a classic nightspot without improving it totally out of recognition! I also must thank Ray Anderson, because I certainly wouldn’t have made the journey from Austin, Texas to Hollywood except to watch him accept an award that he so richly deserves. For quite a few years now I have been firmly of the opinion that Ray is the finest illusionist/magicians on the contemporary scene. If you have never caught his peerless work then I suggest you book a ticket to Austin and catch him in his 30 year performing home “Esther’s Follies” on 6th Street.  Just like Shimada, it does a performer a power of good to be able to settle back in their seat and watch a true master take our beloved art form and send it soaring through the stars.

Set up, Strike and Video Taping! Some final points.

•April 15, 2018 • Leave a Comment

How about the set up and strike?

Setting up for your show is a two-part process, part of it is done at home and part at the venue. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from Roy Johnson, he said that he was happy to spend an extra hour setting up his props at home if it saved him ten minutes of time setting up props prior to the show at the venue. These are words I have lived by ever since. The more fully prepared for performance you are when you arrive at the venue the smoother things will go. I choose to work from a small case rather than using a table onstage. There is no question of needing to set that table onstage prior to show time and no chance of it being knocked over backstage. The goal is to be as self contained as possible, the less you have to worry about your props the more you can concentrate on your show.

Striking your show should be done as soon after the show as possible. You don’t want anyone “exploring” your props or over enthusiastic cleaning staff throwing away that crumpled empty paper bag that actually contains an expensive rubber bottle! Make sure you collect any equipment from the AV team such as receivers or other sound equipment as soon as possible to avoid them getting accidentally packed and removed.

Can I video my show?

 Now that high quality cameras such as Go Pros are available and easily affordable a great many performers carry one with them and want to record their shows. This might be done to study their shows at a later junction and other times it is to acquire footage for a future show reel. Sometimes it is acceptable and sometimes it is not. You are not being paid to rehearse or shoot a demo and you should leave the camera at home and just avoid adding another level of complication to an event. Many buyers are really not happy with a home movie being shot at their event. Certainly I have seen occasions when setting up a camera on a tripod was no problem but I have also seen many other times when it just looked pushy or amateurish.

If you are lucky enough to be working an event that includes iMag video incorporated into the performance you can certainly feel free to ask the client if they would be kind enough to allow you to have a copy of the footage that is shot. In this manner you will acquire high quality footage that can really be an effective tool. If this is the case don’t forget to offer the pay any costs involved and if they say, as is usually the case, that this is not necessary then you should slip the AV guy a little cash for his extra efforts.

 
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