It's crazy that magic tricks dating back hundreds and even thousands of years have no expiration date. The three solid silver rings slip apart and slide through one another, the rabbit gets pulled from a hat, the lady gets shot from a cannon but reappears 45 feet away in a box within a box. Sawing a woman in half has worked since before television. And why?
At opening day of Maleficent on May 30, in Disney's glittery and historic El Capitan Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, the crowd was treated to a live pre-show by notable magician Greg Wilson, which accompanies every screening through July 6. He threw down a series of classic, old-time tricks that, like the Allakazam Railroad illusion made famous by his parents, seem impossible.
Starting in 1960, Wilson's parents, pioneering TV magicians Mark Wilson and Nani Darnell, appeared on their own show – and later as guests on shows like Saturday Night Live. In their signature Allakazam trick, Nani lay enclosed inside two cars of a miniature train with only her head and feet showing, and Mark proceeded to cut her in half.
Greg Wilson says it's all about “for a few minutes of of the day, have fun watching a magic trick, be fooled, let it entertain you.”
At the El Capitan, Wilson tapped traditions borrowed from antiquity but tricked-up for Millennials, kids and families: One of his hot babe assistants, Angel, vanished from a wacky-looking, Disney-esque cannon amidst a loud puff of pyrotechnics and pink smoke.
How in bloody hell did Angel, shortly after the cannon was fired, end up some 45 feet away, hidden inside a box-within-a-box that was suspended from the vaulted rafters of the El Capitan like a load of bananas waiting to be offloaded in San Pedro?
Fine magicians never tell, and Wilson just beams about that trick. The audience started laughing when he foretold his intent, pointing at the cannon and then mischievously pointing high above stage, to a hanging box nobody in the crowded theater had noticed. Wilson boomed that the box “has been suspended there since the show began!”
Was it? The audience rustled and murmured. Nobody could recall.
Despite the mastery of misdirection shown by Wilson, every magician delivers a huge screwup from time to time. We're all watching for that.
Shortly after his perfectly delivered show at El Capitan, Wilson, spiffy in his tux and bow-tie, looked sheepish when asked about his most infamous meltdown on stage. He certainly has committed some big blunders, he says with a grin, that “I just won't, and can't, tell you about.”
Wilson did confess one big screwup, but one committed offstage. At an outdoor magic show he was performing in China, a hail burst hit shortly after Wilson's assistant had vanished from a box and was hidden “somewhere.” The crew jumped to work loading their truck with magic equipment to save it from the rain, threw the box in back, and took off for a cup of coffee.
“We forgot that the girl was still [really] in the box! … Meanwhile she's in there, 'Hey! Anybody out there?! … She forgave us, though.””
Magicians are guys (hardly ever women) under pressure to be charming while pulling off tricks in which Peter Lamont and Richard Wiseman, authors of Magic in Theory, say “the audience fully appreciates the effect, but cannot deduce the method.”
Lamont and Wisemen are delving into why our minds are bent by magic and other trickery. So are neuroscientists Stephen L. Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde, authors of Sleights of Mind, who explain that, “a magician shows a hat empty, then introduces his glamorous assistant. On the way to the stage, however, she trips and falls. As the eyes of the magician and the audience turn to see what happened, the magician sneaks a rabbit into the hat.”
But Greg Wilson pulled a rabbit out of a hat in front of several hundred children, teens and their parents at the El Capitan Theater, at the 10 a.m. showing of Maleficent on Friday.
And none of that happened.
Wilson punched the top-hat flat as a plate. Then he opened the hat to its full height again and placed a black scarf over it. Then he pulled out a wiggly, live, white rabbit.