Magician Mac King: Consistently Outstanding

Inside Magic Image of Mac KingMagician and Comedian Mac King puts on a fantastic show at Harrah’s Casino every afternoon.  We hadn’t had the opportunity to see him in his theater in many years.  His environs have changed dramatically.  He now performs in a beautiful showroom with plenty of seats, drink service, a wonderful stage and adoring fans.  A far cry from his considerably smaller stage and audience area back when we saw him last.  It is nice to see talent rewarded – especially in a town that eats its stars to clear space for the next act hoping to hold a room against the considerable economic forces that must drive the rapacious need to purge and procure talent.

Mr. King was on his A-game when we saw him from our perfectly adequate general admission seats.  It doesn’t seem there could be a bad seat in the house.  The sightlines all looked great and sound and light work was perfect.  He moves effortlessly with what the crowd gives him.  Sure, at this point in his career, he has likely seen just about every audience response and has pat responses for the interaction – but it didn’t seem to be rehashed from prior shows but spontaneous and genuine.

For example, he invited a woman to participate in a card effect and asked her to take a card from the deck and sign it so it could be identified later.  She did exactly as instructed but wrote her name on the back of the card not the face.  Whether he has confronted this type of audience confusion before, he worked the comic opportunity to its fullest extent.  She ultimately selected a card and signed it on its face.  He performed his miracle and she returned to her seat.  She wasn’t embarrassed or shamed – he allowed her to be part of the fun.  He even pointed out that the situation was likely his fault as he did not tell her to sign the face of the card.  He then did two or three call backs to the situation throughout the remainder of his act.

We were with our family – and it is a perfect family show with nothing to embarrass fans of any age – and they were impressed by the magic performed as much as we were.  Magicians watching other magicians can be a cynical lot.  We have seen or maybe even performed most of the tricks before.  We watch for the twist or the performance decisions magicians make whilst performing standards.

Yet, with Mr. King we were impressed by his originality and the degree of difficulty of the tricks performed.  He could have made his job much easier with readily available gimmicks or short-cuts but for some reason – some very good reason for which we are indebted to him – he chose to do rather difficult sleights in do-or-die moments.  We have great pride in our Classic Force, but if it was absolutely essential to hit it perfectly with an audience volunteer, we would choose some alternative.   Even a two-way deck would be too risky for us in such a situation.

Mr. King performed without a net and the audience would never realize how difficult he was making it for himself.  From the opening Cut and Restored Rope through the very last effect, he showed his mastery of the knuckle-busting sleights that we would not dare to perform even for loved ones who would forgive our failures.  Likely, that is why he is the oft-voted best afternoon show of Las Vegas and receives such thunderous applause twice an afternoon in his wonderfully upgraded digs.

If you happen to be in Las Vegas and want to see one magic show, do not foolishly choose to miss Mac King’s afternoon performance in favor of the glitzy here-today-gone-tomorrow acts.  Mr. King’s dedication to magic and entertaining audiences has been rewarded by longevity and repeat fans of families of many generations.  As we said, it is nice to see talent rewarded and it is just nice to see real talent exhibited.

Inside Magic Review: Five out Five – Our Highest Recommendation.

Pop Haydn is a Guilty Pleasure

Pop Haydn - Photo by Billy BaqueWatching Pop Haydn is a guilty pleasure for us.

Unlike eating an entire pint of ice cream whilst binge watching previously unseen How It’s Made episodes, we are not left feeling too guilty or dotted with chocolate stains when we watch the master perform.

Recently we attended a private party at The Magic Castle and saw the incredible Pop Haydn own the crowds gathered in the Peller Theatre for four performances.  We legitimately attended the first show of the evening and then snuck in again for a later show.  It was wonderful.

Pop f/k/a Whit Haydn works a room better than anyone we have ever seen.  He interacts with the audience effortlessly and handles volunteers so well that each outing was like a lesson in advanced magic techniques.

He performed his iconic The Six Card Trick, Color Changing Silk, Mongolian Pop Knot and finished with his world-famous Four Ring Routine.

Magicians know that Pop has been performing these effects for many years but he brought each alive for his enthusiastic lay crowds last night as if it was the first time.  He has a tremendous ability to take what the audience gives him and work it to the further betterment of his routine.  He never drops his character or varies from the spirit of his persona.

We checked with our friends who attended the shows last night and to a one, each thought Pop was absolutely incredible, the highlight of the evening.  That is saying a lot considering they had the entire Magic Castle filled with performers with whom to compare.

If we could have, we would have watched all four of his performances.  Some would say that is obsessive and they would usually be correct but not in this case.  Unlike fattening ice cream, excessive watching of Pop Haydn cannot clog one’s arteries, stain clothing or rot teeth.  It can lead to bewilderment and disorientation but we are willing to take those risks for the benefits received.

Inside Magic Review: Five Out of Five – Our Highest!

Photo Credit: Billy Baque

Korean Magician Seol-Ha Park Has Mad Skills

Seol-Ha ParkKorean magician Seol-Ha Park is the real deal.

He has, as they say in the NBA, skills.  He has moves so amazing that you don’t even see them or know that they have happened.  Like neutrinos, his moves are evident only by the change they cause to other visible things.

We watched him perform in the Parlor of Prestidigitation last night at The Magic Castle and reacted like a cartoon character as we rub our eyes and mouthed the word “what?!”  His act is a tightly structured presentation of incredible things happening in the general vicinity of his hands.  His hands do not seem to take on any unnatural positioning as balls vanish, reappear, change color and transform into impossible things.  His hands and fingers move as they would if such things were happening by magic alone, unaided by any secret manipulation.

His approach to the magic happening is a joy to watch.

We love magic and we really love great magic that we cannot begin to figure out.  We do not want to know how it is done and Mr. Park accommodates our desires wonderfully.

Alex Ramon is No David Copperfield – And That’s a Good Thing

Alex RamonAlex Ramon is no David Copperfield.

And that is a good thing.

We love David Copperfield but loathe magicians – young and old – who do their version of Mr. Copperfield’s act.

Some just borrow his music, patter or effects and put some of their own spin into the mix.  Others steal the music, patter and effects and add nothing.

We have seen Origami and Twister performed across the country – often to the identical music used by Mr. Copperfield.  No matter how good the imitators are, they are still not the real thing.  Sometimes they are interesting to watch and other times they are annoying or sad.

We saw Alex Ramon and his lovely assistant Megan Doyle take the Palace of Mystery stage at The Magic Castle Monday night and were surprised and delighted.  We assumed the worst, though.

Here is a young illusionist with a good reputation within the magic community.  We knew of him but had never seen him.  We hoped he would not be a David Copperfield Knock-Off guy.  Or, if he was going to knock off Mr. Copperfield, he would do so in a unique way.

Our fears were unfounded.  Mr. Ramon and Ms. Doyle are their own people and they have put out a show that is thoroughly their own.

They are a wonderful team and work so well together.  Ms. Doyle is not merely a prop but appears to be a full partner in the act.  Mr. Ramon’s energy and enthusiasm is evident from the opening levitation, through his card manipulation routine, audience participation bit and big finale.  The audience – a good mix of lay and magic folks – loved it.

For the magicians in the audience, Mr. Ramon offered a set of illusions that were certainly not the common Copperfield Knock-Off fare.  His opening levitation was tight and powerful and featured several mini-crescendos along the way to the big pay-off.  His sawing a woman in half was done without boxes (thin or otherwise) under seemingly impossible conditions.  Ms. Doyle was curled within a small metal cage assembled around her tiny frame before a sinister blade was brought down through her.  Amazing stuff.

Mr. Ramon stepped way out of the realm of typical with his presentation of a vanishing light bulb.  The routine was perfectly scripted and wonderfully done.  Magicians and magic history students should see Mr. Ramon perform if only for this one effect.  Great principle performed perfectly.

There are times when David Copperfield imitators will end their routine with the question, “Would you like to see one more?” and we think – but do not say out loud because that would be rude and weird and we assume the question is rhetorical – “no, thank you.”

Mr. Ramon asked the question before his sub-trunk finale and we wanted to respond verbally, “heck yes, thank you, please!”  But we didn’t because that would still be weird – although not rude.

We had not seen Mr. Ramon perform before but will return to The Magic Castle at least two more times this week to enjoy the show again.  It was that good.

Inside Magic Review: Five out of Five – Our Highest!

Magic Apple’s Day of Lectures Review

Paul VigilYesterday, we attended the 7th Annual Magic Apple Day of Lectures at the beautiful Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City, California.  This is our second year and came away – as we did last year – magically enriched and tired but a good kind of tired.

Mike Caveney took the first spot and presented his lecture on how he develops new effects.  He took the 50 magicians in attendance through the development of his Gypsy Thread using toilet paper.  We do not know if this is the proper name for the effect but you get the point.  Like the Gypsy Thread, the magician separates a length of toilet paper into convenient squares, hands them to members of the audience to prove they are both truly separate and ordinary.  They are gathered and then in a straightforward manner, Mr. Caveney restores the length to their former glorious ribbon of two-ply unity.

He took us from the moment inspiration hit – more than 30 years ago and not in a restroom – through the five versions he developed to perform this wonderful piece of theater.  It was a great chance to view the working of a magic genius.

Mr. Caveney showed his incredible impromptu linking coat hangers effect and explained the thinking behind his presentation and its development from years or demonstrating it for magicians at conventions around the world.  We loved the simplicity of the solution.

We could watch Mr. Caveney all day.   But it was time for lunch – part of the Day of Lectures package – and a fine lunch it was.  We dined on fresh turkey sandwiches, fresh fruit and a fresh Diet Coke overlooking the sun-drenched pool just outside the lecture hall.  We remembered to remove the decorative toothpick before eating the sandwich this year – demonstrating that pain can be an excellent teacher.

Next up was a magician we had never seen perform.  That does not make him bad – we haven’t seen many magicians but sometimes, especially after we have eaten and relaxed poolside in a glamorous Los Angeles area, we want comfort.  We want to see familiar things.  In that way, we are very much like Winnie the Pooh.  Different isn’t always bad but when we are dopey from good food and the sun, it can be annoying.

Paul Vigil caught us off guard.  His presentation is so direct and so unique that we got suckered into believing him.  We do that too often for our own taste.  It turns out he lacks any real magical power, cannot predict the future, read minds or rob innocent victims of their ability to exercise free will.  It turned out, we learned, he was performing tricks.  Using subterfuges and, perhaps ordinary fuges, he was making his miracles look like real magic.

We have not been this fooled since we saw Derek Hughes perform at the Peller Theater at The Magic Castle.  Our mind was reeling as we wrote feverishly on the convenient note pad using the free Sportsman’s Lodge pen.  We felt our forehead to see if we had a real fever and then we felt the foreheads of those around us – not to compare our body temperature but just to affirm their personhood through prayerful touching (or something like that).

As we looked up from our slobbering, stooped-over position halfway through Mr. Vigil’s lecture, whom did we notice was sitting right in front of us?

Yes, Mr. Hughes.

It was like a David Lynch version of our life.  We began to think the mayonnaise we used on our turkey sandwich (graciously provided by the Magic Apple) had turned and was now causing us to lose touch with reality.  However, it turned out the mayonnaise was fine, reality remained intact and we were just on the verge of learning effects we had never before considered.  Change, usually bad, was actually becoming good – which was a change in itself.

Mr. Vigil’s Sympathetic Cards was outstanding and even though he explained it with patience and professionalism, we did not believe him.

He told us things that could not be true.  How could someone mix up the order of a deck of cards and have them spontaneously return to a preset order?   We were relieved to see that even Mr. Hughes appeared to disbelieve the claims.

We tried the effect during a later break and it turns out Mr. Vigil was not lying.  Even though it looks impossible, the effect can be done using his method.  Amazing.  Absolutely Amazing.  The impact on our little cranium was as dramatic as when we first learned Paul Curry’s Out of this World, The Hofzinser’s Cull or that (spoiler alert!) Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus are the same person.

We will bring a lobster bib the next time we watch Mr. Vigil perform or lecture.  Because we were chewing blueberry gum, our slobber ruined one of our favorite dress shirts and there is likely no chance we will again happen upon the exclusive men’s store/fireworks stand from whom we purchased it, some Slim Jims and a pack of Black Cat M-80s.

Last up was Helder Guimaraes‘ lecture.  It was not a lecture about tricks per se but more about the theory of magic and presentation.  Along the way, Mr. Guimaraes demonstrated a couple of killer effects but only to explain his approach to our art.  He has incredible skills and is an accomplished performer – including a FISM win – and yet a very approachable and effective teacher.

Unlike virtually every lecture we have attended ever since we started magic in the late 1920s, there were very few things offered for sale.  No over-priced lecture notes, gimmicked cards, one-trick DVDs, CD-ROMs of PDFs of magazine articles or gaffed coins.  Only Mr. Caveney had anything to sell after his lecture and that was hardly a collection of typical lecture fare.  He had his outstanding  Wonders book set and other volumes featuring some of the best magic writing available today.

It was disorienting to not have the last 20 minutes of each lecture consist of a recap of what can be bought and at what discount.  Perhaps that was why we walked away feeling magically enriched and wonderfully tired.