Category Archives: Uncategorized

Opening Number Rehearsals

Every year, each participating Jerry Herman Award school sends their qualifying leading actor and actress to audition before our panel of judges for a chance to win and go on to the Jimmy Awards in NYC. These same participants spend all day Saturday and several hours on the day of the show rehearsing the opening number. Check out the photos from this year’s rehearsals.

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Broadway vs Cell Phones

By Alyssa Appleton

There is no doubt that technology and social media have allowed us as audience members and theatre-goers easier access to shows, stars, and more. But, as with all things, with the positives come negatives, like we’ve seen with the growing fad of picture-taking, recording, even answering the phone during productions of Broadway shows and tours over the last few years. During one infamous incident, an audience member attempted to plug their phone into an electric outlet…onstage. Cast members of shows have been known to stop scenes or musical numbers when audience members’ phones go off. Lin-Manuel Miranda recently called out several audience members during a production of Hamilton for taking pictures. It’s safe to say that cast and crew of many shows are growing frustrated with this phone-epidemic.

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Benedict Cumberbatch once stopped and restarted the famed “To be or not to be” soliloquy from Hamlet because of cell phone use, and still saw people in the audience filming, even after they’d restarted the scene. His heartfelt, classy plea at the stage door that night went viral,

“It’s mortifying, and there’s nothing less supportive or enjoyable as an actor being onstage than experiencing that. And I can’t give you what I want to give you, which is a live performance that you will remember hopefully in your minds and brains — whether it’s good, bad or indifferent — rather than on your phones.”

And while photos and recording are distracting and a form of piracy, the distraction stretches further than that – into the realm of answering phone calls or texting relentlessly during performances. Patti LuPone has stopped performances to acknowledge audience members taking photos or recording, and once she took a phone from an audience member who was continually texting (it was returned after the show). Hugh Jackman has spoken to audience members that were talking during performances, and his shows, too, have sometimes stopped scenes if phones ring…and ring…and ring…and ring.

What you may be asking yourself is…in terms of photos and videos, why are these theatre professionals so frustrated? Why is it, when audience members spend significant amounts of money to obtain theatre tickets, that they can’t take a photo or video to commemorate their experience? I can empathize with that frustration. It’s your favorite new show, you’re thrilled to be there with your mom, dad, brother, sister, best friend, significant other, etc. and you want something to remember the experience by. As someone who’s worked onstage, backstage, in the front of house, and upstairs in a marketing office, I will try and break this down the only way I can: from my perspective.

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Firstly, each production has its own rules in regards to photo and video before the production begins, during intermission, and after the production ends. Sometimes productions are happy to let audience members take photos before a show starts, or during intermission, or after it’s over. Some don’t want photos or video at all once the audience has started to file into the seating area, including before the show begins, during intermission, or after the show. If you want to take a photo but aren’t sure about a show’s specific policy, ask an usher. They have been briefed on that information and will be happy to tell you whether or not you can take a photo or video.

These photo and video policies exist due to copyright laws. Everything onstage is copywritten: the sets, the costumes, the words, the music…all of it. And when audience members take photos or video during a production, they are violating that copyright whether they know it or not. If I were to record a film in a movie theatre, it would be considered piracy, and a violation of that film’s copyright. It’s the same with taking photos and videos of a theatrical experience. This includes the use of the popular app Snapchat, where photos and videos disappear within 24 hours. A photo or video using Snapchat is still in violation of a production’s copyright laws. But again, if you’re unsure about the rules of a production here at the Pantages (or anywhere!), ask an usher. They will have the answer for you. They may even be willing to take the photo or video if photos and videos are allowed!

Alyssa Appleton is a writer/actor living in Los Angeles, devoted to all things nerdculture: TV, film, books, gaming, theatre, comedy, you name it. Like this post? You can check her out on her website: www.alyssaappleton.com, or follow her on twitter: @alyssaappleton.

Alyssa Appleton is a writer/actor living in Los Angeles, devoted to all things nerdculture: TV, film, books, gaming, theatre, comedy, you name it. Like this post? You can check her out on her website: www.alyssaappleton.com, or follow her on twitter: @alyssaappleton.

Everybody Say Yeah!

It’s a rare thing to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame but to receive one along side a dear friend and colleague happens once in a life time. On Monday, April 11th Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein received their stars for their collaboration on the Tony Award winning Broadway show Kinky Boots right in front of the Hollywood Pantages.

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Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper introduced by Leron Gubler, President and CEO of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce

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Sharron Osborne speaks on behalf of Cyndi Lauper

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Sharron Osborne, guest speaker for Cyndi Lauper

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Marissa Jaret Winokur speaks on behalf of Harvey Fierstein

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Marissa Jaret Winokur, guest speaker for Harvey Fierstein

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Official Walk of Fame certificates

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Tiffany Engen (Lauren) sings “History of Wrong Guys” from Kinky Boots

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Cyndi sees her star for the first time

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Harvey enjoying his star

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Poses with THE Kinky Boots

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Cyndi waves to her fans

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Harvey can’t get enough of his star

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Stars appropriately placed outside The Frolic Room

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Rock Star Pose

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Harvey signing autographs for fans

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Cyndi signs an autograph for a young fan

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Leah and daughter Abby show off their newly signed Kinky Boots Playbill

The Festival of Books

On April 9th and 10th The Hollywood Pantages will have the pleasure of participating in the L.A. Times Festival of Books. The festival is held on the campus of USC on both Saturday and Sunday. Each year we try to bring our A game to our booth. This year we are happy be displaying some amazing Broadway costumes. Check out the photos below for a sneak peak of this weekend’s festivities.

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From left to right: Hedwig and The Angry Inch costume worn by Michael C. Hall on Broadway, Peter Pan costume from Finding Neverland on Broadway, The Kinky Boots, and an ensemble dress from 42nd Street.

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Hand beaded ensemble dress from 42nd Street.

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Peter Pan costume from Finding Neverland on Broadway.

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Front: Michael C. Hall’s Broadway Hedwig costume from Hedwig and The Angry Inch.

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Back: Michael C. Hall’s Broadway Hedwig costume from Hedwig and The Angry Inch

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Michael C. Hall’s boots from Hedwig and The Angry Inch on Broadway.

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In addition to the amazing costumes stop by and get your very own Hollywood Pantages tote bag!

For more information about The Festival of Books CLICK HERE

The Final Frontier

As many of you may know we have started a small tradition of hosting wax figures on loan from Madame Tussauds Hollywood here at the theatre. With Star Trek The Ultimate Voyage playing this Friday and Saturday night we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have the great Captain Picard and Captain’s chair displayed in the lobby. Check out these cool facts about the creation of this display.

Patrick Stewart did do a sitting for Madame Tussauds to make the figure very accurate.

During An average celebrity sitting, 250 measurements are taken of the head and body from every angle. In addition, 180 photographs are also taken with different lenses and lighting to ensure accuracy.

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He was first unveiled at the New York attraction May 5, 2003.

It takes approximately 800 hours of painstaking work to complete a wax figure.

It takes 6 weeks to sculpt a head for a figure in clay before it is molded. Once molded, it takes 140 hours to individually insert the hairs, including eyebrows.

All figures have their hair washed and make-up retouched regularly.

It takes 330 pounds of clay to sculpt a standard figure.

Because wax shrinks, wax figures are made two percent larger than the real life subjects they portray.

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President Barack Obama is the first wax figure to appear in all 9 Madame Tussauds locations around the world.

Each figure costs between $250,000.00 and $350,000.00 to create depending on the size of the figure.

To add authenticity to the figures at Madame Tussauds, many artifacts have been donated from the celebrity or purchased from auctions. Joan Rivers even donated her personal nail polish.

For more information about Madame Tussauds Hollywood Click Here

The Life of an Usher

By Alyssa Appleton

Hi everybody! You may have seen the other guest posts I’ve had the privilege of writing for the blog here in my time temping as an assistant in the marketing department of the Hollywood Pantages…but what you may not know is that I started out here as an usher a little over two years ago. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing over a dozen shows come and go, and when I was asked to come up with some ideas for the blog, I jumped at the chance to give a little insight into being on the front of house team.

I’ve only been away from ushering for a few months, but it already feels as though I’ve missed so much, since every night is new and different. Despite this, though, in my time here I’ve seen shows stay for as many as five or six months. I know what you’re thinking…does watching a show six or seven times a week ever get tiring, or does it always stay as cool as it was the first time you saw it?

While the spectacle of some of the shows may not be as “wowing” as the first time, we do get a chance to see the different moments actors have every night, and usually we get a chance to see everyone’s understudy.

I know what you’re thinking. And no, we are not given free tickets to the shows. Sometimes productions are able to give us comps, and sometimes they’re not. And when they can’t, it’s not because they’re mean bad people, sitting on top of mounds of tickets, laughing at us. It’s often because they just can’t, due to how well their shows have sold. And, after all, that’s part of their goal, isn’t it?

Before the actors have their calls, we have ours. As ushers, we arrive half an hour before the front doors open, which is an hour and a half before show time. We change into our uniforms in our locker rooms downstairs, then walk up into the main lobby for our meeting before opening. We’re assigned our positions…which could be taking tickets at the front doors, or handing out playbills as you enter, or taking care of patrons at any number of the doors to the house, or guarding the stage down by the front, watching for pictures…or pouring drinks in the Presidents’ Club lounge — you may have seen the entrance, it’s that roped off area in the lobby near the ATM and the lower bar. Our jobs change day to day and night to night.

On weekends, most of us do what we’ve dubbed the “double-double”, which means working all four shows over the weekend, with a nice break for lunch/dinner in between. So if you ever come to a Sunday evening show and see us yawning as you leave (I’ve been known to do this), it’s because of that good old double-double. It’s not because you’re boring.

And hey, ask us questions! Ask us about the show, about the theatre, about anything! Most of us like to talk about theatre, and most of us are actors, writers, directors, stage managers, and people that work in the industry ourselves.

Oh, and don’t be afraid if you walk by us and we all stand up for you. We’re not trying to gang up on you, we’re trying to be polite. Sometimes people balk at it. And I get it, eight people standing up all at once, potentially coming toward you, is pretty terrifying. But we’re trying to help.

There’s something I haven’t touched on yet that I’m sure a good deal of you are thinking about. “Alyssa, the theatre is haunted, or so I’ve heard…”

If you’re someone who believes in ghosts, or spiritual energies, or that places naturally gather histories that sometimes escape into the present…I’m happy to tell you that yes, we do have some latent energy hanging around the theatre, and most of us have experienced one thing or another in our time here. And hey, that’s another question to ask an usher if you’ve arrived early and you’re waiting to go into the seating area. Ask if they’ve ever experienced a ghost, or a moment where they thought they weren’t alone, or heard a set of footsteps or a voice, because it’s likely that they have. After all, the theatre’s been standing here for 85 years.

Alyssa Appleton is a writer/actor living in Los Angeles, devoted to all things nerdculture: TV, film, books, gaming, theatre, comedy, you name it. Like this post? You can check her out on her website: www.alyssaappleton.com, or follow her on twitter: @alyssaappleton.

Alyssa Appleton is a writer/actor living in Los Angeles, devoted to all things nerdculture: TV, film, books, gaming, theatre, comedy, you name it. Like this post? You can check her out on her website: www.alyssaappleton.com, or follow her on twitter: @alyssaappleton.

The Question Game

Well hello all! I am happy to be returning as a guest writer this week!

We’re going to try something a little new and different over the next week. I’m going to be answering your questions about the theatre in next week’s blog. We’ll be taking questions from now until 2 PM PST next Wednesday the 23rd.

What is something you’ve always wanted to know about the theatre but haven’t come across in your time(s) within its walls? Or what is a question you’ve always wanted to ask but haven’t had a chance?

Post a question down in the comments, and then we’ll go through them and try to give an answer to as many as we possibly can!

Onward to the questions!

Alyssa Appleton is a writer/actor living in Los Angeles, devoted to all things in nerdculture: TV, film, books, gaming, theatre, comedy, you name it. Like this post? You can check her out on her website: www.alyssaappleton.com, or follow her on twitter: @alyssaappleton.

Alyssa Appleton is a writer/actor living in Los Angeles, devoted to all things nerdculture: TV, film, books, gaming, theatre, comedy, you name it. Like this post? You can check her out on her website: www.alyssaappleton.com, or follow her on twitter: @alyssaappleton.

Jeff Hobson

By Evan Henerson

There are magicians who can make a person’s jaw drop, bug out their bug, induce screams and generally leave their viewers an oozing puddle of amazement.

By his own admission, Jeff Hobson is not that magician and the member of the Illusionists nicknamed “The Trickster” is being neither self-effacing nor “tricky” when he says so.

“I always knew that doing ‘serious magic’ wasn’t for me,” says Hobson. “Because I tried, and I realized there were other magicians – namely Kevin James – who were very good at that.”

Hobson loved magic, but he also excelled at making people laugh. So he married the two talents to seriously pursue a successful career as a comedy magician. He has performed for multiple Fortune 500 companies, produced the Illusionarium experience aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line, hosted multiple TV shows and landed on Magic Magazine Top 10 Funniest list of magicians.

Jeff Hobson, the Trickster.

Jeff Hobson, the Trickster.

“Comedy became my thrust, and magic was the vehicle with which to do the entertainment,” says Hobson. “So being known as a comedy magician, I make people laugh first and then if they’re fooled, that’s a bonus.”

Hobson is the pixie-ish master of ceremonies of “The Illusionists – Live from Broadway,” He sports an assortment of outfits, one more sparkly or daring than the next (“I put the poof in magic,” he quips). He prances around the stage, flirts with recruited audience participants of both genders and filches more than a few watches from unsuspecting crowd members.

Tricks? Oh, The Trickster does them, and quite expertly, thank you very much. But when he tells people exactly what he does, Hobson isn’t expecting the aforementioned bugged-out eyes and dropped jaws.

“If I say, ‘I make an egg disappear and reappear,’ you’d say, ‘What is that?’ Well, I have to make it funny, and it is,” Hobson says. “I have a card chosen, and instead of just finding the card like Uncle Harry would do at home, I find it with my tongue inside my mouth. I fold the card three times inside my mouth. You can’t help but make that funny.”

Jeff Hobson and an audience member

Jeff Hobson and an audience member

Hobson grew up in Detroit but he has called Las Vegas home for the past 24 years. He started in the Catch a Rising Star at Bally’s Casino and spent four years as part of Spellbound at Harrah’s Casino. A call from producer Simon Painter set Hobson on the road across America and internationally with The Illusionists. It has been four years and Hobson calls the gig “the Rolls Royce of entertainment” for a magician.  “The Illusionists” may someday play a Vegas engagement, but Hobson notes that the producers are savvy enough to wait for the perfect offer.

Hobson was acquainted with fellow Illusionist Kevin James (“The Inventor”) from their boyhood days in Michigan. The rest of the crew Hobson knew more by reputation than through actual encounters, although he notes that the circle of professional magicians is still relatively small. As a group, he says, the Illusionists are less about learning from each other than serving as a mutual inspiration society.

“For most magicians, within a few seconds, if you don’t know immediately how a trick is done, we can pretty much figure it out in a short amount of time,” Hobson says. “I’m more impressed by presentation. If you see somebody doing something really good, we go ‘Wow, that’s great!’ It just sort of fills your heart with the feeling of ‘OK I want to achieve that sort of reaction from the audience.’”

The Trickster and audience member

The Trickster and audience member

Of the company members who he has performed toured with, the only Illusionist Hobson did not know prior to joining up was “The Manipulator” Yu Ho-Jin of South Korea. Hobson says he has noticed a recent wave of American outsourcing of magicians from Asian countries. In South Korea, magicians are treated like rock stars (think young women flinging their underwear on stage). He also notes that audiences in Asian countries taking a more studied approach to the wonders they are witnessing on stage.

“In China and in most parts of Asia, magic is viewed as a puzzle,” Hobson says. “As they’re watching a show, Asians will be talking among themselves while it’s going on. Finally they have to decide on a method where they know how it’s done. Because if they can’t figure it out among them, it must mean that they’re stupid.

“Then they agree – albeit it may be the wrong answer – as long as they have concluded in a little powwow that this is how it’s done, then they’re fine to watch it.”

Hobson’s own magical beginnings developed when he was 7 years old at a school assembly. His class watched a police officer, who dabbled in magic, mysteriously shifting red, yellow and green balls around a plastic tube to communicate the function of the lights on a traffic signal: stop, caution, go.

Hobson informed his dubious classmates that what that officer was doing would someday be his profession. His friends laughed, but the 7 year old class clown who would grow up to become the Trickster was not joking.

“I said, ‘Yup, that’s what I want to do the rest of my life, and they all said, ‘Yeah, sure,’” Hobson recalls. “And now I am. I’m living the dream.”

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and Examiner.com.

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and Examiner.com.

There is no Escaping This Interview

By Evan Henerson

Andrew Basso takes the stage during one segment of “The Illusionists: Live from Broadway” and one segment only. And when the man known as The Escapologist performs, expect to hold your breath.

Because that’s what Basso will be doing, and in the breath-holding business, odds are Basso can take all comers.

Recreating the famous and very dangerous water torture chamber act created by Harry Houdini, Basso is dangled upside down into a tank of water, and must release himself from three sets of restraints. He must accomplish this and reach the surface before…well…before time and air run out.

Andrew Basso, The Escapologist.

Andrew Basso, The Escapologist, during his death-defying act.

We caught up with the native of Italy and peppered him with questions from which there was no escape.

Hollywood Pantages: How are you enjoying life on the road?
Andrew Basso: It’s good. We have good energy and the audiences are responding very well. I’m seeing countries all over the world and sometimes you don’t get to actually (look around) where you are. The shows are many, and then you have to move to the next city, so sometimes it’s hard, but I’ve been dreaming of doing this all my life, bringing my passion on stage and doing it around the world.

HP: How did your interest in magic develop?
AB: Well, I was a little kid in my little hometown in Northern Italy. I saw a magician and that was the moment where magic became my life. It was a mission first, of course, that I’m still working on, but I was 7 or 8 and there was this magician performing at this event. My mother is very serious like Morticia Addams, and she was completely taken by the magic. She was laughing, and enjoying it, and I remember that moment. I thought, “If he can do that, I want to learn how he does it” knowing my mother and how serious she is. So I think that was a turning point for me.

HP: What kind of magic was this magician performing?
AB: Simple stuff, it was using some cups and balls, some playing cards. It was not a giant Vegas show. It was close up magic. Maybe that was the interesting part because there was a direct interaction, and actually that became my passion first before (I went for) escapes and big shows. I still love to show people magic in their hands. I think you cannot be closer than that as an experience when you touch, when you feel, when things happen in front of your eyes and you don’t believe it. That’s the real power, I think.

HP: So how does an 8 year old start learning the craft of magic?
AB: In the beginning, I was playing with magic, like with magic sets, books here and there and in libraries. Then when I was 12, I met a magician who wanted to be my mentor and he started to teach me like the real secrets of magic and he introduced me to other magicians. Then I started to travel and was meeting other magicians. Even now, I still go and visit the most influential names of magic and I keep learning. I practiced a by myself a lot  and tried to learn from other performers as much as I could while at the same time performing a lot because that’s the only way to build up your own persona, your style and your magic. Do as many shows as you can. So when I was 17, I was already a professional.

Andrew Basso, The Escapologist. Photo: Chelsea Lauren.

Andrew Basso, The Escapologist, on the red carpet. Photo: Chelsea Lauren.

HP: Tell me about the magician who mentored you.
AB: He was nobody famous. He was a regular working magician not aiming for fame or success, and still today we talk about ideas and what to do. At special events like Broadway, the West End of London, and here at the Pantages, he would always show up and be in the front row. For me that would be the best moment ever. Because taking the bow and in that moment looking him in the eyes, I’m thinking “18 years ago I was coming to your house and taking lessons in magic, and now I’m performing on one of the most prestigious stages in the world.” It’s like sharing a dream that we both had but we never really thought could happen.

HP: Do you also pass on the legacy by teaching?
AB: I did when I was not on tour. When I was in Italy and my career was growing, I wanted to have an academy of magic, since there are no real schools of magic where somebody can enter and learn. There are magic clubs, and there are activities but I was trying to build like an institution of magic that so people would come every week and have different teachers going through. I did that for five years, trying to give younger people opportunities to grow up in magic, but then I was so busy traveling, I couldn’t keep it up. I think it’s good to give the opportunity to somebody that maybe doesn’t have the strength as I had when I was 17 to say “Hey, I will move to Las Vegas by myself to meet the greatest magicians and learn with them.” Someone who cannot do that, maybe could have a chance to enter the school and have an opportunity to learn that way.

HP: Many magicians claim to be influenced by Houdini, but through your performance with The Illusionists there appears to be a particularly strong connection. What does his legacy mean to you?
AB: For me, it’s like he’s a real person that exists in my life. It’s like a second father, a person that every day influenced me in what I do, what I want to create. He gave me a dream of becoming what he was and through his most difficult act. He said he could never achieve anything better than that or more death defying than the water torture chamber, and very early in my career, I went straight to his top escape. It was like where Houdini left was my beginning. So it was like a passage, when you pass the torch from Houdini. He’s like a spiritual figure in my life, still there, still influencing me. I keep reading his books and everything he says and I try to (take in) as much as I can about what made this man immortal.

HP: Based on the nature of that escape, do you ever meet fans who say they are worried about you?
AB: Oh, yeah, especially ladies and moms. Because I think well they see a young man on stage and I think since I’m doing something very physical where there is a real genuine risk involved of drowning. It’s something people relate to very easily because we all swim at least once in our life. We jump in the lake or in a swimming pool and we know what it feels like not being able to breathe under water. So I think in that moment where I’m hanging over the tank and taking the last few breaths is a very deep moment that everybody relates to and they become very empathic. I think women are particularly sensitive about this. So they can be more empathic for sure, and I have ladies that had to leave the theater because it was too intense, or after the show they come and they tell me they know how intense that moment was and the release at the end pays off. It’s like they escape with me at the end.

Andrew Basso, The Escapologist.

Andrew Basso, The Escapologist, in the water torture chamber.

HP: That must be gratifying to hear.
AB: Absolutely, and there are many ways to feel gratified. I think one of the most curious was this lady who came with this little girl who was probably 4 or 5 years old and she wanted to meet me at the stage door to let me know she was afraid to swim, afraid of water. She didn’t want to take swimming classes because she hated it and when did my thing, after the act, the little girl said to her mom, “If he can do that, and he’s not scared of doing that, then I can swim.’ So she wanted to take the lessons and overcome the fear. To me it was a big gift that someone would take strength from watching the performance.

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and Examiner.com.

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and Examiner.com.

Meet the Magical Man of Invention — Kevin James, The Inventor

By Evan Henerson

He may share his name with a certain film and TV sitcom star, but Kevin James the illusionist would hardly content himself with being a mere King of Queens. Not when the whole world is his playground.

Sporting colorful Yoko Ono glasses and with a goatee and mustache that call to mind a cleaned up Colonel Sanders, James is a member of The Illusionists. Eight shows a week, the man whose alter ego is The Inventor takes the stage and saws people in half.

Let me repeat that. Kevin James saws people in half…with a chain saw…in full view of an audience. “The operation,” as it is called, is but one of the many macabre feats made famous by the Inventor whose website holds plaudits from celebrities ranging from Nicolas Cage to Barack Obama to Woody Allen.

Kevin James, The Inventor. "Operation"

Kevin James, The Inventor. “Operation”

“With knowledge comes great responsibility,” James says with a soft laugh. “That feeling is very elusive to me these days. So when I get fooled by a trick or routine or a method or just some piece of magic that just amazes me, I cherish it. Because that’s the feeling that I remember.”

James was born in France, the son of a U.S. Air Force helicopter and jet pilot. He initially held dual citizenship, but when Charles de Gaule declared that all French citizens could be drafted into the foreign legion, James’s mother said, “you can have that one back.”

As is the case with many future magicians, James got the magic spark when he was a kid growing up in a small town in southern Michigan. The library in Jonesville (population about 2,000) had six books on magic which James checked out repeatedly. An hour away, in the town of Colon sat Abbott’s Magic Company which, every year, would hold a week long magic convention out in the cornfields.

While his parents would camp, James would spend the day developing what would become his future profession. In fact, fellow Illusionists cast member Jeff Hobson (AKA The Trickster) was a fellow attendee when both he and James were in their teens.

“There were no hotels out in the middle of cornfields, so you either had to camp and go in or stay and rent a room in somebody’s house,” James said of the Abbott’s Magic Get-Together. “It’s not a big city convention. It’s a down home great magic convention and they hired big stars to come perform and do seminars.”

“That was a great place for me,” he continued. “Once a year I saved up and spent a week there, and I made lifelong friends.  You could buy books, videos and all your supplies. That was kind of the foundation of my upbringing in magic.”

Kevin James, The Inventor.

Kevin James, The Inventor.

James moved to California in the early 1980s, joining the Long Beach Mystics where he continued to hone his performance. He eventually become a junior at the Magic Castle, earning honors such as Parlour Magician of the Year and Stage Magician of the Year.

According to James, Southern California was the “magic capital of the world” during the 10 years he lived in Anaheim. But as a small prestidigitating fish in a large pond, James knew he needed to be unique.

He draws the comparison to an aspiring rock star arriving on the scene and unleashing a killer rendition of a Stevie Wonder hit. The tune may sound great, but where does it get you?

“You’re not starting at a very high level. Stevie Wonder wrote that song already,” James said. “Now you have to write the song and perform it great. I worked really hard trying to do something that other people were not doing, trying to be as original as possible. Sometimes it’s not so easy. It’s extra work, but I think it’s worth every minute of it.”

Ultimately James went back to France where he performed on the variety show “Sebastian C’est Foux” and as a headliner at the Crazy Horse in Paris. He spent three more years in Korea and moved back to Las Vegas where he is currently based.

Not that he’s home much these days. Since joining The Illusionists, James has traveled to Sydney Australia, to Broadway to London’s West End and across North America, breaking box office records at every stop. When he joined the company, James developed and embraced a new professional identity: the Inventor was born.

Kevin James, The Inventor, on the red carpet. Credit: Chelsea Lauren

Kevin James, The Inventor, on the red carpet. Credit: Chelsea Lauren

“Our producer, Simon Painter asked us all to find a moniker that we could use in the show and hook our specialty onto,” James said. “He said, ‘try to imagine if you were a superhero, who would you be? What would your power be?’ I decided the Inventor would be a nice big playground to play in and not box me in too much.”

“We look like The Avengers,” he continued. “Everyone has their unique style, their unique specialty, and that’s another thing that makes the show delightful. Instead of one person performing for two hours with the same point of view, the same voice, here if you don’t like something, three minutes later there’s going to be something you’re going to like.”

James has spent enough time with his fellow Aveng…er…Illusionists that he knows many of their secrets, just as they know his. But he says one of the great secrets to magic is knowing the secrets is beside the point.

“Penn and Teller will show you how something’s done and then immediately fool you with the same method a second later because they’re that good,” James said. “The most amazing parts are all the little details for the artistic interpretation of an effect. The trick doesn’t really matter. The secret doesn’t matter. What are you going to wear? What’s your music going to be? What’s your lighting going to be? What’s your dialog going to be? Where are you going to pause for that dramatic tension? How long does that pause have to be? All those minute little details make a piece great.”

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Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and Examiner.com.