Magic goes mainstream as bigscreen pics, cable hits and Vegas hipsters offer more than card tricks
Bye bye, bunny.
Today’s magicians and illusionists aren’t just reaching into hats for rabbits or behind ears for coins at children’s birthday parties. It’s as though they’ve decided to use the “abracadabra” on themselves and now command a diverse audience in film, television and at large Las Vegas hotels.
“Part of magic moving forward is that people like Penn & Teller, Lance Burton, Criss Angel and David Copperfield have made magic cool again,” explains John Lovick, one of the entertainment directors at the Magic Castle. “They’re not stuck in the idea of what a magician used to be.”
“There’s definitely an approach to magic that has more of an edge out there now,” says Las Vegas-based magician Burton.
After performing for more than 20 years, Burton believes Las Vegas is the “center of the universe for live magic” in terms of career opportunities, as visitors arrive there looking to see something extraordinary. Burton and longtime pros Penn & Teller have shows at the Monte Carlo and Rio, respectively.
Gay Blackstone, wife of the late legendary magician Harry Blackstone, believes interest in magic outside of popular live venues in Las Vegas and the Magic Castle runs in cycles.
“Magic might fade out for a while, but it always comes back because people love the thrill of wondering if someone can make you believe in the impossible,” Blackstone says.
Magicians are definitely more visible in films lately. They were central in two recent releases — Woody Allen’s “Scoop” and “The Illusionist,” featuring Edward Norton. Plus there are others on the way: Christian Bale will star in Christopher Nolan’s magic-themed “The Prestige” in October, while “Death Defying Acts,” a tragic love story loosely based on the life of Harry Houdini, teams Catherine Zeta-Jones and Guy Pierce on the bigscreen in late 2007.
“We’re all drawn to these larger-than-life characters,” says “Death Defying Acts” producer Chris Curling. “People who seem to be able to get out of impossible situations become iconic figures.”
Those impossible situations seem to be a lure for television viewers as well. In addition to highly rated event shows such as those starring David Blaine, magicians are appearing all across the dial, including on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” Showtime’s “Penn & Teller: Bullshit!” and A&E’s “Criss Angel Mindfreak.”
Angel admits magic lagged behind other arts for years because of its out-of-date approach.
“The days of shoving girls in leotards in boxes and cutting them in half is over,” Angel explains. “I stayed away from magicians when I was younger because I didn’t want to think like them and wanted to create my own style.”
“Criss Angel is definitely not your father’s magician,” says A&E senior VP Nancy Dubuc. “He looks more like a rock star.”
The approach hit with a group loved and courted by advertisers.
“We saw a 49% increase in viewership in the 18-to-49 demo from season one to season two, and we think a lot of that had to do with word of mouth,” says Dubuc.
“At the end of the day, people want to escape and be entertained. These shows deliver on the ‘wow’ factor.”