Move over Harry Potter
There are almost as many mood changes as there are costume changes for dancer/magician’s assistant Jinger Leigh in the theatrical magic experience Magic Underground. Not that that’s a bad thing. The minute the ambiance feels a bit too heavy or a bit too light because of sentimental ruminations on how the magic seed was planted in Mark Kalin oh so many years ago, the scene, the trick and the vibe change.
People may remember Kalin and Jinger from Carnival of Wonders at the Flamingo Hilton or Illusionarium at the Reno Hilton. But expect a change. With their new Magic Underground show, the married couple is trying to be more intimate and classic than the typical big, bold casino show, and they succeed in pulling it off.
After descending the stairs to the furtively placed showroom next to the Pioneer Center for Performing Arts, early 20th century-style décor—heavy drapes in rich blood-red and regal purple—welcomes marvel seekers. Inside the cozy theater space, larger-than-life posters for the “Tunnel of Love,” “Madame Zora” and “Pip & Flip: Twins from Bali” indicate that the show will have a vaudevillian feel.
The show opens as a gong sounds, and Kalin enters.
“This is an experiment in trust. Trust me for a little while. Trust me with your imagination,” Kalin says.
After the first illusion, which involves creepy music and a curious little man disappearing inside a curious little box, Jinger adds, “Trust me, there’s a logical explanation for it all, but I hope you don’t want to hear it.” Jinger’s disclaimer is a tactful line of defense against those who might feel compelled to solve the puzzle, rather than just sit back to ooh and ahh.
The magic ranges from that we all recognize (girl goes in box, steel blades drop through her center, the two halves of the box are pulled apart) to the more elusive. A unique and esoteric piece, which involves getting in contact with poltergeist-like spirits who make a lot of disagreeable noise with musical instruments, harkens back to the feel of a 1920s séance.
Even though there is that overly nostalgic part where Kalin reminisces—overacting slightly—about his first magic trick ("One day I got up enough nerve to perform it before an audience: Mom"), the sleight-of-hand work in this scene is impressive. Unlike bigger prop-oriented magic that relies on specially made machines to help pull off the trick, the magic in this scene relies entirely on Kalin’s manual adroitness as he turns one billiard ball into five, then back into one. It’s great fun to watch Kalin’s hands, and it’s the kind of trick that surely inspires children in the audience to catch the magic bug.
One great aspect of the show is the level of audience participation. At least eight members of the audience were chosen to be part of the action. The funniest instance was a gentleman who returned to his seat before he had fulfilled his purpose as a co-magician.
The guest performer for the evening was Christopher Hart, also known as Thing, the disembodied hand from the Addams Family. He performed several fast-paced sleight-of-hand tricks that were circusy in tone. It was a nice addition to the show. Other guest performers will make appearances at Magic Underground from time to time during the show’s run.
Quizzical brains aside, Kalin and Jinger present audiences with fun, quick and diverse illusions. Quizzical brains on, there are still some spectacles that have no other explanation than to truly be magic.