Philly’s Magic Moment

The Philly arrival of The Illusionists isn’t the only sign the art of prestidigitation might be making a comeback.


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I love magic. My late father was a magician — he went by the name “The Great Shandor” — and when he was a teenager back in the ’60s, he would perform on Atlantic City’s Steel Pier. Much of my childhood was filled with magic shows, magical construction projects like the Sword Suspension Trick in our South Jersey garage, and trips into the city to see all the street magicians who used to perform at NewMarket, a once-thriving mall in Society Hill. Back then, going to a magic show was something that people seemed to actually enjoy.

In more recent years, though, magic fell by the wayside. I’m not talking about TV magic, with those sporadic David Blaine specials and that canceled Criss Angel series on cable. Television magic never impressed me — or my dad — because, well, you can’t believe anything you see on TV. And I’m not talking about that masked guy on Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed who shows you how tricks are done — that guy and guys like him all over YouTube are the mortal enemies of working magicians everywhere.

I’m talking about in-your-face live, in-person magic, where a skilled manipulator makes things appear — and disappear — right before your eyes. That magic has been nearly extinct — unless you happen to be in Las Vegas. But it turns out the art of magic might not be dying off after all.

Seth Rovner, the 32-year-old magician/owner at South Street Magic — the city’s only magic shop and theater — says that while business did get incredibly sluggish over the past few years, today the thrice-weekly magic shows in the shop’s theater sell out consistently. He estimates that 60 percent of the people who come to see them buy something, whether it’s a kid picking up that $7.95 trick where you stick spikes through a quarter, or a professional magician — their numbers in the region are growing, says Rovner — who wants to order a large-scale stage illusion. The Northeast Philly native opened South Street Magic three years ago. In 2014, he moved it into a space triple the original size.

“Magic is just starting to go back up,” he says. “I don’t know why that is, but it is a hotter item at the moment, especially over the last six months. Now, whether it stays prevalent is anybody’s guess.”

Rovner isn’t the only one banking on this renewed interest. Beginning Tuesday, February 24th, through early March, the esteemed Academy of Music welcomes eight performances of The Illusionists, an awe-inspiring live show featuring seven of the world’s greatest magicians — the area’s first “big” magic show since David Copperfield toured the area several years back.

I happened to catch The Illusionists during its recent Broadway run in New York, and there were many, many “wow” moments, including full-blown illusions of the Copperfield kind and mesmerizing feats of sleight of hand (and some stuff not for the squeamish). In early January, ticket sales were already off to a very strong start (seats are $20 to $105), proving that people still want to witness the impossible, like when this one magician takes all these severed body parts and …

Originally published in the Ticket section in the January 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.