Are You Watching Closely?

Last night I went to see David Copperfield at the MTS Centre here in Winnipeg.

Bit of background for you folks who don’t know me. I’m a big-time magic geek. I love the stuff. Back in University, I used to perform professionally, and I was pretty good. Then the arthritis set into my hands, and a lot of the things that I loved doing just weren’t possible any more, and I let my practice slide.

Recently, I’ve started trying to get back into the hobby. Y’know what? It’s not a hobby. It’s a craft, and an art, every bit as challenging and respectable as acting or painting or writing. Anyway, I started trying to get back into it. I’ve been picking my effects carefully, based on what I can and can’t do with my hands, and I’ve started practicing with cards and coins and sponge balls to increase my finger strength, flexibility, and dexterity. They’re never going to be what they were, but they’re getting better.

So, that lets you know where I’m coming from when I talk about David Copperfield, which is the point. I’ve got some knowledge of the inner workings of magic, and some ability to judge technical expertise.

And my conclusion is that the man is good.

Technically, he’s tight in his workings, and clean in his handlings. He is very crafty when it comes to handling the dirty work of the various effects. His show runs very smoothly, and any gaffes (and I didn’t spot any) are quickly handled.

But what really makes him shine is the way his show is put together.

Every trick is chosen for the power of its effect. Smaller things lead to larger ones. Close-up and parlour effects are mixed into the big stage effects to display a wide range of talent and accomplishment. He even pulled out a floating tissue paper effect from one of his earlier TV specials (which effect I had first seen performed by Kevin James at a magicians’ convention in about 1989). It’s a charming effect that works right up close with a spectator, ending with a fiery transformation of a tissue paper rose into a real rose for the spectator to keep.

And he looks so totally at ease during the entire show. He seems to be having fun, he cracks jokes, often at his own expense, and generally charms the pants off the audience. How charming is he? So charming that none of us minded when he showed us a four-minute video of one of his big escapes down in Las Vegas.

Yeah. I paid $100 for my ticket, and didn’t mind that he showed me a clip from his TV show.

I dunno. I see a lot of negativity about Copperfield in some corners of the magic community. Some people say that he’s all flash and no substance. I think this may be because he represents, in a way, the complete, absolute refinement of one type of magic – the grand illusion show*. There’s been a sort of backlash to that type of magic, first evidenced in Penn & Teller’s revelatory magic act, and then retooled in the David Blaine street magic tradition. Copperfield is seen as kind of “old school,” while Blaine is “new school.” In the middle, you get people like Criss Angel, doing a mix of both, with a more modern persona.

But magic is a HUGE space in which to work. Along with these household names, you find less-well-known but perhaps more influential magicians like Max Maven, Eugene Burger, Tony Andruzzi, The Amazing Jonathon, and Jeff McBride. Kreskin and Larry Becker and Lee Earle and Banachek work in the niche of mentalism. Tom Mullica does an amazing (and somewhat nauseating) routine working with cigarettes. Daniel Garcia and Wayne Houchin have developed a number of absolutely incredible close-up effects, and have even produced an entire deck of special cards that they have created.

Magic isn’t just one thing, anymore than music is. We’ve got room for the street and the stage and the parlour table.

Wow. That was a bit more of a rant than I had intended. Deep breath time.


Back on topic.

David Copperfield gave us a great show last night, with a mix of well-chosen, high-impact effects. His magic is stunning and his performance is just so much fun. I’m going to try and list the effects he performed now, but I can’t guarantee that I got them all, or got them in the right order.

  • Appearance on stage on a motorcycle.
  • Audience participation “You can’t follow me” trick with clasping of hands.
  • Passing through a steel plate.
  • Dancing borrowed tie.
  • Video of his Fires of Passion straitjacket escape in Las Vegas.
  • Card trick with scorpion.
  • Compression box, where David is squeezed down to hat-box size.
  • Lottery prediction, which finishes with the production of a 1942 Lincoln Convertible**.
  • Floating tissue paper rose production.
  • Vanishing while walking through a giant fan, reappearing in the middle of the audience.
  • Vanishing and reappearing duck in a bucket, with a slow motion repeat.
  • Vanishing 13 audience members, with them reappearing in the audience.

I think that covers it. It was a fun evening. If you enjoy magic, or even just if you don’t hate magic, I recommend the show.

And if you want to learn magic quickly and easily, I find I’m really liking the stuff at Check them out.


*I’m not going to get into a discussion of other illusionists, here. Suffice to say that others at that lofty peak include Sigfried & Roy and Lance Burton.

**I think that’s what he says it was. I don’t know cars.