Ordinary things labeled “magic” become extraordinary: flutes, carpets, markers, school buses, Orlando. Throw in the word “champions,” and the concept inspires even more amazement.
Champions of Magic, starring five U.K. magicians who are indeed all-stars of their art/craft/wizardry, will astonish audiences — not with buses or carpets, but with birds and giant industrial fans — during a performance Nov. 10 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
The traveling show, in the U.S. for the first time, played to sold-out crowds in Great Britain.
“Champions” is a mix of magical styles: mind-reading by Alex McAleer, large-scale illusions by duo Richard Young and Sam Strange (aka Young and Strange, their real last names), close-up magic by Fay Presto (Presto is a stage name) and a little bit of everything, including a doves-appearing-then-disappearing act, by Edward Hilsum.
Magician Strange, speaking via phone from the Champions’ tour bus in Erie, Pennsylvania, said that the touring musicians appreciate unsuspicious U.S. audiences.
“Although the show has been doing well in the U.K. for several years now, the British are generally very skeptical and cynical about magic,” Strange said. “They have an ‘impress me’ look on their foreheads, while Americans completely embrace it, cheering even before the lights come on.”
Don’t worry — you’re not being gullible. The magicians’ tricks, even if you know at some level that they must have a scientific explanation, really do appear mind-boggling.
Despite their different approaches to smoke-and-mirrors entertainment, the performers are all masters at making magic as well as connecting with audiences, often through humor.
The problem with interviewing magicians is that, of course, they’re not going to share what’s up their sleeves, in their mysterious boxes or behind their swooshing colorful silks — but here are a few out-in-the-open facts about the magicians.
The Close-up Queen
As noted in the BBC documentary Fay Presto: Queen of Close-up, Presto has rightfully earned the regal title. Not only has she performed for more than 40 years, but she’s also entertained the Queen of England several times, as well as other members of the royal family. Among other honors, The Magic Circle — a London-based international exclusive club for magicians — named her Close-up Magician of the Year in 2012.
Like other close-up magicians who perform in more intimate settings, often using such props as cards and money, Presto “does magic right under guests’ noses, but she also does it on stage,” Strange said.
The Mind Reader
Like Facebook, McAleer appears to know things such as what city you want to visit on vacation, but according to his website, “He is no ‘psychic.’ He reads people and talks to the living, combining contemporary mind reading with sharp wit and a flair for showmanship.”
The Dove Whisperer
Hilsum, the 2014 winner of the International Brotherhood of Magicians’ Stage Competition, has a baby face that belies his already impressive resume, including an invitation to perform at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in 2012 and a run of his one-man show Edward Hilsum: Genie at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2015. He’s skilled at sleight-of-hand and illusions, and does a raved-about act with appearing and disappearing doves — birds he has raised and cares about deeply.
Young and Strange met as kids and were originally magic-act rivals (schoolboy-style), but figured out that they worked better as a team. They have appeared twice on Penn & Teller: Fool Us, neither time managing to fool the legendary Las Vegas duo, but they impressed the famed magicians all the same.
Young and Strange’s self-deprecating humor, long-forged personal chemistry and likable zaniness are as much a part of their act as their prowess with the boxes and other props they employ.
Their portion of the show, Strange said, “is high-energy, done with bombastic music, and the scale of the props is large.” Yes, there will be a 10-foot-by-10-foot industrial fan.
Strange was willing to share one stage secret related to what makes a “champion” illusionist. “You have to make the audience care about the illusion, and give every trick an emotional spin,” he said.
Prepare to be amazed!
Champions of Magic will perform on Friday, Nov. 10, at 7:30 p.m. at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. For tickets and more information, call 449-2787 or visit www.civicartsplaza.com.