The Old Magic and the New
Old magicians never die. They just disappear in a puff of smoke, usually through a trapdoor.
When I heard that the New Denver Civic Theatre had actually booked a live magic show for the next four weeks, staged by up-and-vanishing illusionist Nick Felix, I knew I had to get Vel-Dini in on the act. Vel-Dini is a semi-retired legerdemainist whose experience in the black arts dates back to, geez, not Houdini but almost that far. He grew up in the day of huge traveling stage shows and has an encyclopedic knowledge of the great performers, from Thurston and Blackstone to Kreskin and Copperfield. Back in the long-gone days of the Orpheum and the Tabor, Vel-Dini himself pulled rabbits out of hats at practically every live venue in downtown Denver. He also happens to be a blood relative. So who better to critique the new talent?
We caught a preview performance of Felix's show last night. (The show officially opens tonight and runs through December 9.) Felix is a young, hipsterish performer stuck in a cornball medium, and he does his best to ingratiate himself with audiences by being decidedly untraditional. No tux, just shirtsleeves and open collar. No assistants in puffy slave-girl outfits, just sleek models off a game show. No rabbits or doves, just a thoroughly ironic plastic parakeet. No hoary patter about the ethereal spirits, just, "This next piece is kinda cool. I really like it." And a topical one-liner or two, including a reference to Copperfield's recent legal problems.
The actual illusions turn out to be freshened-up versions of the classics, though. Beneath the new hardware, the throbbing music, the fog machine working overtime, are lots of oldies but goodies. The death-defying performer is inserted in a trunk, and sharp objects follow. A dollar bill materializes in a lemon, a drawing gives birth to a bowling ball. Babes vanish, float in the air, vanish again. And a surprise doppelganger appears at the end of the last effect, suggesting a whole new direction the act might go, right out of The Prestige..
Vel-Dini gave the hour-long performance an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Although he didn't approve of the wardrobe — "kind of crummy, with that shirttail hanging out" — he conceded that it did fit in with the casual attire of the audience, including the sullen, gum-chewing volunteers who went on stage to be stupefied by one gimmick or another. And at least one effect, the bowling ball, struck Vel-Dini as exceptionally fresh.
"I thought he did a really good job," he concluded. "The levitation could have had better lighting. In the old days, you know, they used to float a woman out over the audience."
Ah, the old days. Vel-Dini is glad that it's Nick Felix hauling all that equipment around and not him.