This magic moment

Real Magic Christmas

Mark Kalin’s magic fan makes scraps of paper swirl on air at 90 mph, in the shape of a Christmas tree.

Mark Kalin’s magic fan makes scraps of paper swirl on air at 90 mph, in the shape of a Christmas tree.

Photo By David Robert

It’s Christmas time, and magic is in the air—literally. This month, Magic Underground, beneath the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, presents the family-friendly A Real Magic Christmas. If your holiday celebrations don’t include levitating ladies and people being cut in half, then maybe it’s time to give tradition a tweak.

Magic Underground may be fairly new, but husband-and-wife team Mark Kalin and Jinger Leigh have been working their magic for years. In fact, that’s how they met; both were performing in a show called American Glitz in Guam in 1990. Kalin asked Leigh to be his assistant, and they’ve been working together ever since. For years, they created impressive, flashy shows for casinos—always striving to be bigger and better—which culminated in making an entire American Airlines jumbo jet disappear. But in late 2003, they decided that what they really wanted was a smaller, more intimate venue where they could make a personal connection with their audience. The couple also wanted to spend more time with their young daughter. So they got rid of the jumbo jet, sent their tigers off to retirement in Las Vegas, and started looking for their own theater.

"[We wanted a] mysterious, subterranean place where you experience magic and illusion,” says Kalin. “This is a return to the idea of a theater built around magic.” A century ago, he says, magic was a popular and respected form of entertainment for adults, and grand theaters were built solely to house magic shows. Magic Underground reflects that history with rich, luxurious colors, dim lights, and vintage-style posters and memorabilia. The theater is small, seating just 200, and the adjoining Close-Up Cabaret is set aside for close-up magic, a challenging discipline that requires coordination and split-second timing to fool watching eyes.

A Real Magic Christmas is the holiday version of the ongoing Real Magic show. It’s shorter (about an hour long), more light-hearted, and has a format specifically aimed at younger audiences. Although it’s loosely holiday-themed, you won’t find any heavy-handed moralizing about the meaning of Christmas. You will, however, find a mixed bag of illusions and classic tricks, from a dramatic levitation illusion to a sleight-of-hand routine with billiard balls, the first trick Kalin ever learned. In addition to the magic, there are a couple low-key dance numbers and plenty of dazzling costume changes. And the Sunday matinee includes a free beginners’ magic class for the kids.

Kalin and Leigh are still perfecting their new, small-scale routine, and it shows, mostly in the occasional technical glitch with sound or curtains being drawn at the wrong moment. The onstage banter between the two magicians, which Kalin says is crucial to drawing the audience in, is still a little rough, too. But the illusions are good, sometimes even breathtaking, and there are plenty of how’d-they-do-that moments. One illusion, where Leigh appears to crawl through Kalin’s caged torso, is particularly startling and a little unsettling.

As parents know, sometimes just keeping kids quiet for an hour is a feat of magic in itself. All the young ones in the audience looked enthralled by the show. So, if you’re looking for a slightly different holiday experience this year or a family-friendly gift, A Real Magic Christmas may be just the ticket.