The career of Dan White has been an exercise in maximalist magic.
The 40-year-old cut his teeth playing various supporting roles to David Blaine and David Copperfield. He’s not a dinner theater performer, but he did help create a card trick for a dessert at Eleven Madison Park. He’s not a musical magician, but he was a creative consultant on Kanye West’s Yeezus tour. Instead of appearing on whatever talk show will have him, he became a favorite of Jimmy Fallon, notching 12 guest spots on The Tonight Show. Even in his own show, The Magician at the NoMad Hotel which began in 2015, he opted for grandiosity: the lighting design was inspired by the historic Lobmeyr crystal chandeliers that rise at the beginning of every performance at the Metropolitan Opera.
After the pandemic closed that long-running, intimate spectacle, White eventually returned to the stage with something that appears, on its surface, much more humble: a Zoom magic show. It’s still called The Magician, but instead of buying tickets, dressing up and going to a theater, you book a ticket online (and quickly, as these sell out weeks in advance), receive a tantalizingly mysterious box in the mail (that you’re cautioned not to open “until instructed”) and log onto Zoom on a personal computer at showtime.
I had the chance to experience this at-home exhibition earlier this month, and while I don’t claim to have any clue how White pulls off his arsenal of tricks, illusions and mentalism, I can however read your mind at this exact moment: do I really want to log onto Zoom on a Friday night after a week of mind-numbing work Zoom calls?
Herein lies White’s greatest trick of all: You will almost certainly find yourself entranced by The Magician because it is on the loathed video-calling platform, not in spite of it.
I like to think that magic transcends time and technological advances, that a card trick in Houdini’s era has the same power to delight in the age of TikTok, but that may be wishful thinking. We certainly appear to have become more cynical as a society, and despite being in something of a golden age of magical performances at the tips of our fingers, we also seem to be more ready and willing to poke holes in them.
I’m constantly waiting for more of Justin Willman’s series Magic for Humans to pop up on Netflix, but pre-filmed illusions always leave room for doubt. Even Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself, a filmed version of the illusionist’s off-Broadway show streaming on Hulu, and hands down the best thing I watched during the pandemic doldrums, could have been edited to show only the best versions of the performances. And in the case of live, in-person magic, which is now happening again across the country, there’s the important caveat that the performer is always in charge: it’s their home turf, they’re manipulating you from the second you enter the theater or simply their personal bubble, a fact illustrated by the memorable occasion when David Blaine met President George W. Bush.
In Dan White’s online version of The Magician, he’s doing the magic live but from afar. He does not have control over how you and your viewing companions handle the objects in the black and gold box you’re sent, nor can he manipulate the lighting around your couch or distract you while slipping a card here or a coin there. So when illusions appear before your very eyes — one my wife particularly enjoyed involving a candle, and one all 200-odd Zoom accounts lost their minds at involving a deck of cards — there’s no skepticism to cling to. White is there, inside your computer, and yet he’s manipulated you all the same.
The Magician attempts to recreate the NoMad Hotel experience as much as possible, through exhortations that viewers should “please dress nicely” and that “lights be dimmed for the show — but bright enough that we’re able to see you.” In practice, however, a significant amount of pleasure is derived from the fact that White randomly selects viewers, pins their video to the screen alongside his and asks them to participate in tricks, and the random participants run the gamut from rule followers to people who appear to have stumbled into the Zoom by accident.
On the night I attended, there was an Upper East Side couple who got dolled up for the affair, a family of two parents and two children who had kitchen bar stools arranged in rows like a makeshift theater, and a suburban guy with a baseball cap who apparently lives in a mansion as White had him walk around for one illusion and the man’s gigantic wooden front door looked ripped from a medieval English castle. Luckily, I was also selected to participate, and I can confidently say it’s the only time I’ve ever been happy to be singled out on a Zoom call.
Even if you’re a Zoom hater, a jaded 21st century technophile or one of those YouTubers who ruins magic tricks for clicks, I’m absolutely certain that one feat, the finale, will leave you speechless. Actually, I take that back; part of the performance is that the microphones are unmuted during reveals so that you can hear the rest of the crowd reacting — and after that final flourish, I wouldn’t have been surprised if my neighbors called the police after hearing us screaming at my computer in unison with the hundreds of others.
Zoom, and the internet at large, will never be able to replace in-person magic, no matter what Mark Zuckerberg wants you to believe. But if the art of the magician is making the impossible possible, Dan White has done that in spades by making a Zoom event the hottest ticket in town, even well into 2022. I hope I can sidle up to strangers in a dimly lit theater with a cocktail made by someone else and see him perform soon in the flesh, but if that’s not in the cards, I’d gladly invite over a new group of friends and get another ticket for The Magician, and maybe even put on a suit this time around.
You can buy tickets for The Magician here. Be aware that March dates are sold out and April may soon be, too.
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