The word “Magic” brings up many connotations. It may recollect ancient and secret magics in Egypt, or conjure up the image of a dark sorcerer of mythology, or summon to our mind’s eye dark cloaked members of a coven encircling a field. The word has the power to frighten or enchant, but it always and inevitably leads in one direction … to wonder and awe.
It can also pack in more than 20 million audience members and make more than $1 billion over the last decade for a master of the art of illusion.
So it goes for David Copperfield, who in just a few short days will be bringing this world of magic for two shows at Orlando’s Bob Carr Performing Arts Center stage with his current touring show, “David Copperfield: An Intimate Evening Of Grand Illusion.”
Not bad for a nice Jewish boy from Metuchen, New Jersey – one who just happened to begin performing professionally at the age of 12, was the youngest member of the Society of American Magicians, was teaching magic at New York University at age 16, made the Statue of Liberty disappear, and is ranked by Forbes magazine as the 13th highest-paid performer in the world.
But with 18 award winning television specials that have reached more than three billion viewers in 40 different countries – netting Copperfield 21 Emmy Awards for artistic excellence on television – one could wonder why he continually returns to the live stage.
When posed with that question, and the comparison to film and its own technological marvels, Copperfield hit directly on the very nature of live performance.
“I do over 500 shows a year and never get bored because every show elicits a different reaction from the audience, and each new audience member I bring on stage makes it all very fresh and unexpected,” he said. “When you can create awe and wonder for a person, live before their very eyes from the stage, I think it even tops the impact of what someone sees on the movie theater with CGI, green screen and the like.”
In “Grande Illusion,” Copperfield strives to take one’s dreams and bring them to reality using his art.
Sometimes this very personal dream is of winning the Lottery – one of his Grandfather’s unfulfilled dreams which helped to inspire this night of magic. And sometimes it’s much more:
“This entire show is based on making dreams come true,” he said.
“People don’t dream of pulling rabbits out of a hat, but they do dream of seeing someone they haven’t seen in some time coming back into their lives. I’m not bringing people back from the grave, but I am transporting 13 people off the stage and hopefully bringing them back safe and sound.
“More than anything,” he added, “it’s the audience participation – whether grand or intimate – that keeps things as fresh as ever … and moving them emotionally.”
But it’s not just onstage that Copperfield attempts to make dreams a reality.
Since 1982 his “Project Magic” – billed on his Web site as a “rehabilitative program established in March 1982 to strengthen dexterity and motor skills in disabled patients, using sleight of hand magic as a method of therapy,” has helped disabled patients in 1,100 hospitals throughout 30 countries.
It does this not only through magic, but by motivating the individuals and helping to build self esteem.
After so many years of creating illusions, one would think that the effort to continue to surpass each past show would get exhausting.
Each illusion takes an average of two and a half years to develop for the stage (with an illusion such as “Flying” taking seven years). Keep in mind that this is the man known for levitating across the Grand Canyon, who escaped from Alcatraz, and – in midair over a circle of spectators – made a seventy ton Orient Express car vanish.
But Copperfield continues to explore and push his own limits as well as those of his audience, and his influences might be a bit surprising.
“I try to look at a challenge and think ‘why not’ rather than “It can’t be done,’ and then devise a means of creating the illusion,” he said. “My influences – unlike what most people think – came largely outside of the field of magic.
“Although magic greats like Keller or the Frenchman Robert Houdon – where Houdini got his name from – were certainly great for the profession, artists like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly have greatly influenced how I present my show on stage.
“Also, in an attempt to move my audiences emotionally, I would have to say film directors like Orson Welles, Stephen Spielberg and Francis Ford Coppola have had a great impact on my career,” he added.
While musing about the future and longevity of magic, Copperfield has large faith in the sustaining popularity of this entertainment.
As he put it, “Magic has been around since the caveman first plucked that pebble out of some unsuspecting cavewomen’s ear – much to her delight. The art of magic has a very rich history, and I imagine it will do just fine for many millennia to come. A few things I have always wanted to do is straighten the Leaning Tower of Pisa, put a woman’s face on Mount Rushmore, and vanish the moon. So, it looks like I have a busy schedule ahead of me!”
“David Copperfield: An Intimate Evening Of Grand Illusion” comes to the Bob Carr Performing Arts Centre in Orlando for two shows on Thursday, Jan. 29, at 5:30 and 8:30 p.m.
Information courtesy of The Ledger