There’s this new magic guy, see, who calls himself “The Futurist.” And I’m about to do that trick where you tear something—or someone—up into little pieces and, perhaps, put it—or him—back together again. And I’ll do so in defense of the honor of our beloved Las Vegas.
Two Sundays ago, The New York Times chatted with Adam Trent, one of seven stars of The Illusionists—Witness the Impossible, the first serious attempt at a magic show on Broadway in decades. The reporter asked why magic “isn’t as popular here”—meaning in New York—but that was Trent’s cue to merely proclaim himself the savior of all illusionist theater everywhere!
“Magic hasn’t been presented in the right way in America; magic has suffered from the people that perform it,” he explained. “If you type in ‘magician’ under Google image search the top page of Google is Bob the Birthday Party guy. It’s the guy in the tuxedo, with the flame in his hand, the guy with the slicked-back hair. And that has been the public’s perception of magic, which is unfortunate, because there’s so much good magic out there. It’s just that people have this perception: ‘Oh, there’s going to be some awkward guy asking you to pull his finger, and I’ll pass, thank you.’”
It’s a false equivalency, because nobody expects the magic hack you hire for your kid’s birthday to put on the sort of show you’d see in a theater. (If Trent’s argument for his supremacy and originality is that he’s better than those guys, that’s a low bar.) And how is it possible to make such a claim about the practitioners of an entire genre without acknowledging that there’s a city—in America!—that for many years has gainfully employed the wry, erudite Penn & Teller, the silly Mac King, the classic David Copperfield, rock ’n’ roller Criss Angel, fratty Nathan Burton and the Mentalist Gerry McCambridge? Each act has its own flavor, and none is as Trent described. In my 20 years in and out of Vegas, the only tuxedo-clad magician I recall is Lance Burton, who was graceful and more successful than Trent may ever hope to be.
Trent has a hook, presenting himself as something new to journalists and critics who won’t question his blather. The Associated Press sent out a video “interview” with its write-up on The Illusionist, for instance, in which he’s permitted, unchallenged, to say: “I specialize in modern magic, magic that’s not been seen, the way it’s being presented, before. I like doing comedy, I like to use music and do tech-based illusions.” Can you imagine if Jennifer Lawrence proclaimed that she just invented the girl-next-door film persona and that the rest of young Hollywood has been doing it wrong?
Trent doesn’t even try to stay consistent in his “brand.” The top Google result for “Adam Trent” yields a website trumpeting upcoming shows in April 2010 above a MySpace link. Not very Futurist-ic, is it? After claiming to do “magic that’s not been seen” in that AP video, he then does a common sleight-of-hand card trick.
On his current website, he’s dubbed a “Magician Reinvented” and offers a YouTube video again stressing his novelty. Then the guy who hated on flame-in-the-hand performers uses a handheld fire flash to turn something into a rose. As Trent must know, there is nothing new under the magic-trick sun, because defying physics has its limits.
Trent should learn from Criss Angel. Angel promised a revolutionary sort of magic. I thought with the big bucks of a custom-built Cirque du Soleil theater behind him, he might actually do what Trent calls “tech-based illusions.” He didn’t. Instead, like Trent appears to do, Angel ran around onstage and played loud music and thought that could convince audiences of his talent. A great illusionist knows the power of quiet, sincere moments.
Adam Trent may be a terrific, engaging entertainer. He’s cute—he’s got a Hal Sparks of Queer as Folk kind of vibe—and maybe he’s fresh and fun. But can’t he market himself while also respecting his colleagues and the heritage of his craft? Instead, he has declared in the world’s most important newspaper that, but for his genius, magical theater would be forever stuck and stodgy.
Looks like I failed to put him back together. Dang. I’ve never figured out how they do that trick.