An unusual number of shows featuring high-profile magicians are opening in New York theatres in April, providing a bonanza of opportunity for local magic lovers. Noted conjurors Derek DelGaudio, Derren Brown, and David Williamson are among the performers who are bringing their acts of amazement to theatres Off-Broadway and at Madison Square Garden. DelGaudio launches his lauded show In & of Itself on April 5, the same day that David Williamson begins a run as the Ringmaster in a touring extravaganza called Circus 1903. Britain’s Derren Brown makes his United States stage debut on April 21 as part of the Atlantic Theater Company’s season. Additionally the Salute to Magic, presented by the local chapter of the Society of American Magicians on April 8, will feature a one-night bill of four acts including Denny Haney and Scott Alexander and Puck. These shows are in addition to such ongoing local shows as Steve Cohen’s Chamber Magic, Dan White’s The Magician, Noah Levine’s Magic After Hours, Monday Night Magic, and the close-up magic dinner show A Taste of Magic.
Aside from the sheer number of acts opening within a short time frame, it is notable that the majority of these productions are works that integrate magic into a broader-than-usual theatrical context. DelGaudio, for example, was profiled in a New York Times magazine article as the “magician who wants to break magic” and his show reflects his interest in performance art and conceptual theatre. Williamson appears as the Ringmaster in a production that is a theatrical interpretation of a 1903 circus. Derren Brown’s United States debut is being presented by the Atlantic Theater Company which has built its reputation on Off-Broadway productions of plays by such writers as David Mamet, John Patrick Shanley, and John Guare. Atlantic’s Artistic Director, Neil Pepe, who was responsible for deciding to bring Brown to New York said in an interview, “To me what I find fascinating is the intersection between storytelling and the truth of somebody’s stories and the truth of human psychology, reflecting on what it means to be human and how Derren has merged that with the skill of how he does his shows, how he creates these illusions.”
In & of Itself originally premiered in Los Angeles at the Geffen Playhouse in May 2016. It was announced as “metaphoric labyrinth, filled with allegorical illusions and centered around a single paradoxical truth.” The one-man show, starring Derek DelGaudio, is following the same path as Nothing to Hide, DelGaudio's collaboration with Helder Guimarães which first played at the Geffen in 2012 before becoming a hit in New York. On April 2 DelGaudio was named Magician of the Year at the 2017 award ceremony of the Academy of Magical Arts (which operates Los Angeles's Magic Castle). He also is a co-founder of an experimental performance art collective, A.Bandit. In & of Itself is directed by Frank Oz, who was instrumental in bringing to life the Muppets’ Miss Piggy and Star Wars’s Yoda and has directed several notable motion pictures. The show has a musical score by Mark Mothersbaugh a founding member of the band DEVO. The limited engagement begins previews on Wednesday, April 5, 2017, with an opening night set for Wednesday, April 12, 2017, at the Daryl Roth Theatre in Union Square, where it is scheduled to run through June 18. For tickets and more information, go to: http://www.inandofitselfshow.com/#home
David Williamson • Circus 1903
Magician David Williamson takes on the role of Ringmaster Willy Whipsnade at the center of Circus 1903: The Golden Age of Circus. The show looks at circus through a turn-of-the-century window, creating an imaginary depiction of a troupe’s arrival and performance at a small town stop. It features a company of international circus acts and presents a new twist on animals in the circus, drawing on the talents of a team of puppeteers to create lifelike elephants.
Williamson was instrumental in helping to create and define the role of the Ringmaster. “They gave me a lot of license as to how I was going to do things and what I was going to say and what magic effects might work here or there. Thats when I brought Mike Caveney in because he’s sort of steeped in that time period. He’s a historian. He helped me get the vernacular right. He built a beautiful tip-over trunk for the History Conference and we are using his tip-over trunk in the sideshow for a bit that we wrote."
Williamson has a moment in the show where he helps extend the circus metaphor through an act that he has honed through years of performing. “I have my own segment near the end of the show. It’s the wild animal taming portion of the show. Every circus has a wild animal tamer. That’ll be me, and my wild animals are four kids from the audience. I bring them up and I do the Rocky Raccoon routine with them. It works really well in the circus format.” Williamson is an award-winning magician who has released influential instructional material for magicians and has also performed on national television, for audiences on the Disney Cruise Line, and in the touring and London company of The Illusionists.
Circus 1903 was produced by the same team that created the various productions of The Illusionists. It runs April 5 through 16 at The Theatre at Madison Square Garden. For more information or to buy tickets, go to: http://www.circus1903.com/tickets/tour/new-york-city
The Salute to Magic is the annual presentation of the Parent Assembly of the Society of American Magicians, a show that has been presented consecutively for 108 years. This year the production will be presented April 8 at the Queens Theater. The Salute is a traditional magic and variety show that brings together a diverse range of acts and is suitable for families and magic lovers of all kinds. It offers the opportunity to see magic veteran Denny Haney. Magician and critic Jamy Ian Swiss recently wrote about Haney in the blog Lyons Den at magicana.com “the magic is always perfectly rendered, the man behind the magic a quirky, funny, appealing eccentric who can and will thoroughly entertain any kind of audience.” The Salute to Magic will also feature Scott Alexander and Puck who performed together on Penn & Teller Fool Us and also individually each appeared on America’s Got Talent. The bill additionally includes performances by up-and-coming magician Alexander Boyce, who performs frequently at Monday Night Magic and juggler Will Shaw. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to: http://queenstheatre.org/content/other-events
Derren Brown • Derren Brown: Secret
Derren Brown has been a sensation in Great Britain both on television and in live performances, and although he has been influential internationally among magicians, he has had very little mainstream visibility in the United States. Brown comes from the realm of mentalism but his act expands that framework to address broader aspects of psychology, apparently predicting and manipulating human behavior. Derren Brown: Secret, which is scheduled to run April 21 through June 4 (opening night is May 16), is a tweaked version of Derren Brown: Underground, which played in March in London as a warm-up to Brown’s New York run. The show is an anthology of Brown’s most effective material from previous stage productions. Derren Brown: Secret will begin previews Friday, April 21, officially open Tuesday, May 16 and play a limited engagement through Sunday, June 4, 2017, Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater. For more information or to buy tickets, go to https://atlantictheater.org/playevents/derren-brown-secret/
The wealth of eagerly-anticipated shows leads to the logical question of why these performances are all coming together in this one time frame. “You can see it ebb and flow, right, the popularity of magic,” said David Williamson. “And I think we’re on a high point now and this is just a kind of an example of that. I think it’s coincidence to a certain point that everybody’s converging for these few weeks in New York right now but in general I think magic is on an upswing.”