Merciless as it was, the 20th century did leave behind some pleasant ghosts amidst the carnage of technological development, such as the spirits of vaudeville and cabaret. Decades after its Golden Age and long after cinema ascended to the entertainment throne, vaudeville’s influence, if not its classical form, is unmistakable in today’s media. I remember two TV shows I used to watch with my parents, both of which were variety shows that clearly harkened back to the old days. The first was the BBC’s Paul Daniels’ Magic Hour. There were plenty of grand illusions and classical magic tricks by the master magician himself, often delivered with the memorable catchphase “You’ll like it…not a lot, but you’ll like it,” as well as a variety of fun acts ranging from ventriloquists and illusionists to quirky performers like a man who played his wife like a flute (don’t get any funny ideas). Second was The Muppets Show, before the trend of focusing on behind-the-scenes and muppets-in-the-world shenanigans. The clever spoofs, funny songs, guest stars, and energetically choreographed song-and-dance numbers all proved stimulating to my imagination and sense of whimsy.
Magic Mondays at the Odyssey Theatre embraces the best of vaudeville and cabaret, confirming once again the value of live entertainment in the recorded era. “There is a market in Los Angeles for a cabaret-style magic show,” says the show’s producer, Michelle Grant. “The Magic Castle is great, but it’s exclusive. Magicopolis in Santa Monica doubles as a store, and there isn’t a lot in the way of variety over there. Both are more formal experiences. But Magic Monday is accessible to everyone. We are so pleased to be at the Odyssey Theatre. We hope to introduce a lot of magicians to audiences in a way that hasn’t been done before.”
The evening I attended featured recipients of multiple awards from the Magic Castle. Tom Ogden delivered masterful presentations of classic rope and ring tricks, while John Carney displayed exquisite and startling sleight-of-hand mastery. Pop Haydn, in the guise of an old-time snake oil salesman, offered teleportation tricks and illusions involving “magnetized” water. Albie Selznick, currently performing in Smoke and Mirrors at the Odyssey, framed the evening with one of those mentalist tricks involving audience participation and a locked box suspended above the stage, revealed to contain…
It was all gloriously and often hilariously mystifying. A reminder of the pure delight I took in watching the Paul Daniels Magic Hour, shows in Vegas, and performances at the Magic Castle.
“Burgundy Kate’s” performance was the sole curiosity in the evening’s program, through no fault of the lovely actress Angie Hobin. She has all the attractive qualities one could hope for in a burlesque dancer, a charming stage presence, sex appeal, personality galore, and vivacity. But as the evening was billed as family-friendly entertainment, the incongruity of burlesque was underlined by theatre staff extracting children from the audience for a return after the act. The resulting mood spoiler was unfair to both performer and audience, not to mention the kids who were singled out. Ms. Hobin was deprived of a fully engaged audience, while the audience seemed too bewildered to relax into the performance. People cheered the cute routine, but with the sort of restraint one imagines comes from fear of what their spouses or dates might think. The lesson is: Either put on a show for adults or think of the kids. There’s little magic in confused programming.
But never mind that: Magic Mondays is a much-needed addition to the theatrical calendar. With high-calibre talent like Max Maven, mentalist extraordinaire, in the rotation, there’s sure to be a dazzling experience whatever program you happen to get on any of the remaining Monday performances. Highly recommended, especially since Magic Mondays’ greatest trick is to make ennui disappear.
For show information,performance times, and tickets, visit www.magicmondayla.com.