Monday Night Magic
It’s Monday, that means it’s time for Monday Night Magic! Like the firmness of the earth (and yet like the mists of the mystical heavens), this weekly magic showcase featuring some of the most interesting performers in the magic world has been going strong for a baker’s dozen of years. I first caught them when they were in the Sullivan Street Playhouse when The Fantasticks was still playing there, which is going back a ways.
The concept is very smart — Mondays are dark in most theatres. Since magicians aren’t bound by the same rules as actors, they can step in and perform in a theatre that would otherwise be empty. Everybody benefits. The audience is an interesting mix of “in the know” New Yorkers out for a reliable evening of entertainment, and tourists who’ve undoubtedly been referred there by concierges, since most of the other theatres are closed. I think this business model is just ingenious.
It’s a different line-up every week. On the recent Monday I attended, the show was fronted by Matthew Holtzclaw, a low key but compelling host with a crisp bow and a level gaze that has no doubt been cultivated to distract you from whatever his hands are doing. He’s funny in a deadpan way; and he did do a little magic, a clever bit where he purports to teach an audience member a card trick, and the missing card winds up in his pocket.
The opener on the bill was young Jeff Grow, a laid back performer in jeans (in contrast to Holtzclaw’s impeccable suit and — ye, gods! — pink shirt and tie). His most memorable bits concerned a floating cigarette (black thread courtesy Philip Morris) and a shell game with cans of Wasabi peas. While plenty skilled, the material seemed a bit old hat.
More to my liking was Rob Zabrecky, who is new to my consciousness and about whom I just cannot rave enough. He’s hard to describe — simultaneously funny, odd and dark in ways that remind me of Steven Wright, Andy Kaufman, Charles Addams, John Waters and Vampira, among others. As a vaudevillian, I have to say I’m bugged by our age of specialization. Whether you’re a singer, a juggler, a magician, a comedian or whatever, the most important thing to me is an ACT. I don’t care if you saw your own head off and birds fly out — I want to see a start, a finish, patter, and a big big big character who stands out from everyone else. Zabrecky’s tricks are impressive, but even better, his jokes are funny and his personality is compelling. But my words won’t do him justice, so go here and click “performance”.
Last on the bill (i.e., the headliner) was my old pal and one of the show’s producers, sideshow stunt maven Todd Robbins. We met at Big Apple Circus about 15 years ago; he was one of their staff clowns, I was a fundraiser. He has proven a mensch many times over, performing for my wife and I when our baby was sick in the hospital, and doing turns at many of my shows in cesspools and hidey-holes far from the limelight of Leno and Letterman to which he is far better accustomed. It’s been amazing to watch Todd over the past decade and a half — it really has been the experience of watching a vaudeville act evolve over time, a very rare privilege in this, the heyday of slackerdom. By now, Todd knows every nook and cranny, every molecule, of his 20 minutes – – where the laughs are, when to let out a little slack…and when to reel ’em in. To him, the act must feel like a favorite baseball glove. Nowadays he has an army of copycats. Every city has its local scene where tattooed skate-punks eat fire and swallow swords and hammer nails up their noses. But Todd got there first (or, earlier at any rate), and he has a degree of confidence, charm and polish none of the others can hope to match. I for one, have always relished his comedy stylings as much or more than the stunts themselves. I won’t divulge his jokes — only that his courage in delivering them must be equal to his thirst for danger. As for the stunts (they are not tricks, that is, not fakes) in addition to the above mentioned, he also eats a light bulb, and does something with a balloon animal you’ll not soon forget. (I’ve also seen him put out a cigar on his tongue and blow up a hot water bottle over the years, although he didn’t do those bits last Monday). If you’d like to see some of Todd in action, you can check out his performance at my recent No Applause show at Theater for the New City right here.
To find out more about these variety artists and the history of vaudeville, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.