I went to The Magic Castle the other night for the first time, and it was a great experience. I’ve been a fan of magic since my youth, but had a resurgence in my late 20s somehow related to Ricky Jay (was it a video, a book, a TV appearance? I don’t remember!). I have no interest in trying to be any good at magic anymore, not because it’s not fascinating to me, just because I now know how hard it is to be any good. I have my hands full just trying to be a good drummer and web guy, thank you.
The Magic Castle is a private club (21 and over) for magicians and their well-dressed guests (yes, there is a dress code; I wore a suit, people!). To get in, you need to be accompanied by a member, or to have acquired a pass from a member. If you have a pass, that means you’re going to have a nice, expensive dinner (apparently they tell their new members “the food is actually good now”) and get tickets to see as many shows as you care to. If you go with a member as a member of your party, you can skip dinner and just walk around and see the shows (though your place in the audience of big show is not guaranteed if you haven’t had dinner). This is what I did, going with Kate (not a member) and a friend of ours who is a member.
The building itself is a hodgepodge of stuff, packed to the gills with lithographs, paintings, caricatures, slides, and all kinds of ephemera of magic and magicians through the years (and a lot of things with little to no apparently connection to that world). There were lots of prints of Chung Ling Soo, whom I read about in Jim Steinmeyer’s excellent book The Glorious Deception. It’s been pieced together, added onto, and is generally a delightful mess. Just walking through is interesting, regardless of the actual performances of the magicians (and Irma, the ghost pianist who takes almost any request — yes, any, including Radiohead or Spice Girls).
There are three main performance spaces at the castle, and we saw something in each, only missing one performer. First up was Jon Armstrong, who has won Close Up Magician of the Year (though not this year — he started his act by telling us he lost this year “and let me show you why”). He did a very entertaining 20 minute set. He’s a young guy, loves comics and brings his personality into the act in an engaging and fun way. He’s also just flat-out a great conjurer.
Next, we caught Paul Green, who is also a past Close Up Magician of the Year, and a lover of coin magic (he spent half his set with coins). His effects were very meat-and-potatoes, with a lot of skillful misdirection, and well-done.
The main event on the biggest stage in the Castle (which still only seats maybe 80 people, which is great) was a combined performance by John Carney (performing as his alter ego Mr. Mysto), Rob Zabrecky, and Ron Lynch (as alter ego Mezmeriso). Usually the big stage features three magicians performing back-to-back-to-back, but these three co-wrote a longer performance that was Halloween-themed, very funny, a little bit meta and more than a little bizarre. The story was that the three of them were ghosts of magicians and vaudevillians who blew up in the Hindenburg disaster and have been haunting The Magic Castle ever since, and they demonstrated their own inimitable talents. It was leaning toward performance art at times, with Mezmeriso in particular really bringing down the house with his hilariously (and deliberately) awful tricks. John Carney, who was the only magician of the night I had ever seen before (though never in person) was a pleasure as Mr. Mysto, very funny, very nervous, and performing really good effects, although not always the ones Mysto seemed to intend. Zabrecky was the MC, and I especially liked his lovely card-shrinking effect he did while dancing around on the stage. The only rough part of the show for me was the musical introduction. They were all playing instruments and not sounding particularly good (and unlike the magic, I was pretty sure it wasn’t on purpose). That small niggle aside, it’s a really fun show they’re doing.
Last up with Andrew Goldenhersh, the current reigning Parlor Magician of the Year. I don’t know what the difference is between that and Close-Up Magic as they define it, because it was still quite close. But in any case, he was really excellent. He started off by turning a tattoo of a butterfly into an actual butterfly, moved to producing coins (of many increasingly preposterous sizes) from thin air in a really graceful way, and wrapped up with an escape from a straightjacket that ended unexpectedly. His manner was very personable, and his work was stellar. The worst part of this show was that it started after midnight, and there were some really loud drunks there who thought it would be fun to basically shout the whole time. If they could have been escorted out, it would have improved my night. But for all that, he handled them very gracefully, let the show continue almost totally unscathed (for me, it was not at all a problem for him as far as I could tell).
We didn’t get out of there until after 1 AM, so it was a long night, but it was a delightful experience, and I’ll look forward to going back some time. I couldn’t have asked for better company or more enjoyable performances, and I highly recommend it to anyone who has any interest whatsoever in magic. I know not everyone’s going to be a big nerd for it like I am, but it’s fun to let yourself be fooled and amazed periodically, so go do it.