Magic by any other name’s not just magic

March 19, 2002 6:56 AM
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Magician Lance Burton’s recent TV special, the theme of which was “animal magic,” emphasizes, what we in Magic City should all know ”” that there are distinctly different kinds of magic. Animal magic wasn’t just a category some TV exec created to justify another TV special.

Magicians have been a great part of the entertainment lore of Vegas for decades. But even here, people have tried to rate Siegfried & Roy or David Copperfield as the greatest magician ever, as opposed to Houdini or Harry Blackstone, lumping them all under one umbrella, though they represent very distinct fields of legerdemain.

When people say Sammy Davis Jr. was the greatest entertainer, it’s a given they mean as a nightclub performer. Certainly he couldn’t compare with Groucho Marx, Caruso, Van Cliburn or Sir Laurence Olivier as entertainers in their fields.

When we refer to the greatest singer, we have to be specific as to whether we mean of jazz like Ella; crooning like Frank; or, opera like Pavarotti.

Is the greatest guitarist B.B.King? Or is he the greatest blues guitarist? Jimi Hendrix? Or was he the greatest rock guitarist? Chet Atkins ”” the greatest country guitarist? We could no more compare them to each other under the generic label of “guitarists” than we could Sarah Bernhart, Spencer Tracey, Sir John Gielgud, Carol Channing and Peter Sellers as actors.

When it comes to magic, it might help to know that within magic there are specific areas of specialization: (1) slight of hand and close up, (2) cabaret, (3) animal magic, (4) escape artistry and (5) Grand Illusion. (Comedic magic, along with certain forms of ventriloquism, juggling, mime, etc., are generally referred to as parlor magic.)

A master at flipping coins over his fingers or palming cards, is a master of slight of hand/close up.

When he makes props like candles appear and disappear or his assistant float on an outstretched broom (levitation), he can be said to be a master of cabaret magic.

The people who make cars float and then disappear or vanish the Statue of Liberty, are grand illusionists.

When they add birds, elephants, and lions and tigers to their illusions, they are incorporating animal magic.

And when they get out of a straight jacket or glass box buried six feet deep, they are escape artists.

Though most magicians can and do perform various types within their acts, they usually gained notoriety within one or two special areas of the art.

You don’t see Siegfried Fischbacher onstage at the Mirage doing the card tricks he once performed as a kid.

And you probably won’t see Harry Anderson getting into any boxes with a tiger.

The late Orson Welles was quite adept at slight of hand. But if he tried to get out of Houdini’s water torture chamber he might still be in there.

S&R are, of course, incredible masters of grand illusion with exotic animals and Lance Burton is an outstanding escape artist as well as being as good as anyone in the world at manipulating coins or cards. In fact, Lance may be one of the few who can do it all!

But there are distinct categories in which they, as well as Copperfield and others, have no equal.

To illustrate the distinctions, here are probably the most renowned in their fields of magic: David Copperfield-Grand Illusion, Siegfried & Roy-Animal Magic, Houdini-Escape Artistry, Lance Burton-Cabaret, and Norm Nielson-Close up.

Las Vegans, of all people, should be able to evaluate an art that is practically native to their culture. And when someone talks about a subject like animal magic here, Âí­Felix the Cat and his bag of tricks shouldn’t be the first thing that comes to mind.