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Behind the scenes and in the spotlight at "Mickey's Magic Show"

Behind the scenes and in the spotlight at "Mickey's Magic Show"

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The following behind-the-scenes tale comes by way of the most generous folks over at Genii Magazine, THE premier magazine in the field of magic. If you're interested in learning about the great magicians of the past and/or today's top conjurors, this is one publication you really want to add to your reading list.

As for the author of today's article ... Jim Steinmeyer has created show-stopping illusions for the stage musical versions of Disney's "Beauty & the Beast" and "Mary Poppins." He's also worked with the likes of Siegfried & Roy, David Copperfield and Lance Burton.

And -- in addition to doing all this -- Jim has also written several wonderful magic history books, "Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible and Learned to Disappear," "The Glorious Deception: The Double Life of William Robinson, aka Chung Ling Soo, the "Marvelous Chinese Conjurer" and "The Magic of Alan Wakeling: The Works of a Master Magician." Soooo ... If you like what you read below, you may want to consider checking out one or more of those volumes.

And now ... On with the show!

The construction of any magic show is a balancing act. There's the audience's perceptions, the performer's best abilities, and the material that will best connect the two in expected and unexpected ways.

Invariably, a show with cartoon characters compounds the problem. These characters may be beloved by their audience and renowned for their effortless skills and achievements. By the time they make it onto the stage -- in oversized shoes, padded costumes, three-fingered mittens -- the reality can leave something to be desired. Often the illusions need to be designed "around" these characters. Ingenious solutions are necessary to create effects that would otherwise -- in an average magic show -- be quite ordinary.

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

The producers of "Mickey's Magic Show" were devilishly clever. They knew that Mickey, Minnie and their friends would be the favorites of their audience, and that the kids would expect their cartoon characters to perform wonders. But they insured success. From my first meeting, I was told that we'd have "two real magicians" on the show, two actual human beings who could work directly to the kids, work in conjunction with the Disney characters, and deliver a dose of real magic unencumbered by rubber, padding, and pre-recorded dialogue.

I shouldn't have been surprised by this sensible approach. Kenneth Feld was the producer of Siegfried & Roy's show, and has been around great magic all his life. Disney Theatrical has been involved in hundreds of shows and incorporated mixtures of fairy-tale magic and real conjuring in many of their productions.

Kenneth Feld, president of Feld Entertainment (left) and Jerry Bilik,
writer & director of "
Mickey's Magic Show" (Right)
Photos courtesy of Google Images

As the script developed, the roles for the two magicians were adjusted. At first, Jerry Bilik, the show's director and writer, suggested a good magician and a bad magician. Then a good magician and an inept magician. Then a good magician and a well-meaning amateur. The magicians could be foils, assistants, and apprentices to the famous Disney characters. They would give the kids someone to root for.

Brad Ross levitates Jasmine in "Mickey's Magic Show"
Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

Producer Kenneth Feld found Brad Ross, a seasoned New Jersey professional at 25 who had earned his stripes with a mixture of kid's magic and illusions in theme park shows. Brad was a great choice, and we were lucky to get him. He's one of those fellows who can really do it all, from warming up the audience to leading the applause, goosing the kids through a sucker trick with a disarming shrug, or performing high-power illusions in the magical finale. He's a personality to be reckoned with-believable as a "professional associate" of Mickey Mouse's, or the cheerful big brother to the thousands of kids in the audience.

Alex Gonzales, from San Francisco, was later cast as the second magician, "Benny," who stumbles onto the stage, apologizes for being late, and spends the show trying to match Brad and Mickey in magic abilities. This was a stretch for 20-year old Alex Gonzales, but he quickly grew into the role of Benny, well meaning, enthusiastic, and always mangling the magic words or muffing the trick. When he magically appears in the second half, determined to try his failed ring trick just "one more time," the music shifts to energetic rock. The Linking Ring routine is Alex's specialty, and his crescendo of spins, tosses, links and crashes earns Mickey's applause and Brad's admiration. Needless to say, the audience of kids is right behind Benny, cheering him on through his breakthrough performance.

Alex Gonzales (center) with "Mickey's Magic Show" cast members
Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

When the two magicians perform the Double Sawing in Halves -- working together at Mickey's suggestion, not in opposition -- the audience is ready for some more magic, and these magicians can deliver.

That's why "Mickey's Magic Show" has a mix of different kinds of magic. There's the cartoonish magic of the characters themselves: an elaborate ballroom sequence in which the Disney princesses are magically summoned to the throne, or a comic "fired from a cannon" routine, complete with a tongue-in-cheek line of dippy magic assistants, grinning and strutting as they march through their assignment. The magic was chosen to show off the personalities of the Disney characters, and give them their own moment in the spotlight. Brad's pretty levitation with Princess Jasmine, and the two magicians' final act, gives a taste of a real magic show, a little bit of Las Vegas dazzle brought to Mickey's stage.

Photo courtesy of Google Images

For me, the Double Sawing was a special treat. The other magic illusions were built by Bill Smith Magic Ventures and Hagenbeck-Wallace, the Feld Entertainment shop in Florida. But when the producers decided on the Double Sawing, there was only time to purchase a used prop and have it re-dressed. The Sawings we located were the red and blue Sawings from Doug Henning's "Merlin," the first Broadway show I'd worked on in 1982. They arrived at rehearsals in South Carolina just as I'd remembered them, in all their weathered, rustic, Celtic glory, if now slightly worse for the wear. For Mickey's show, designer Jim Youmans cleaned them up with sparkling gold and brighter patterns of red and blue, but I was happy to see these sentimental friends find a new audience. They were a hit at the start of the second act in "Merlin," and they're a hit at the finish of "Mickey's Magic Show" as well. The sawing props, I kept reminding myself, were just a few years younger than our magicians.

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

"Mickey's Magic Show" is really rock-and-roll for six-year-olds: a cast of superstars, familiar songs, sing-alongs, a chance to recite some magic words and cheer on the performers. Youmans' sets and John Morgan's lights are lavish, colorful and first-class. It's not a bad way to introduce little kids to a real theater show. Even better, it's a good way to teach them all that there's something called a magic show. Not a bad lesson to take home.

On Friday ... "Genii" editor Richard Kaufman sits down with Brad Ross & Alex Gonzales to talk about what it's actually like to work in a touring production like "Mickey's Magic Show."

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  • That sounds like a fun show!  I wonder what other tricks the characters do...

  • We saw this last year and thought it was great. The Double Sawing is incredible. Both of the young magicians were great. One of the real, tricks, though, is that the characters mouths move and their eyes blink (I asked Jim about this in a previous Why For?). Still don't know why they don't do this for the parades and shows at the Parks. It's really amazing.

  • "There is no such thing as fun for the whole family."- Jerry Seinfeld

  • Saw this show as well in Sept 2006.  It was really neat.  I was also amazed by the new character designs and the removable hats.  I think Jim responded to that question and made an article how Disney has been experimenting with this type of tech for more than a decade.

  • How about a mention on whether this show is still running or something?  Can't find anything on google beside an empty official Disney schedule.

    Speaking of google, for all those images you keep crediting to "Google Images", it would be nice if you actually credited the artist, and not the search engine you use to find them.  Google doesn't have any rights to those images.

  • I took my girlfriend and her two preschool children to see this show in Indianapolis recently, and I have to tell you it was one of the best shows I've ever seen!!  As a Disney "nut" since birth I look for every opportunity to attend a Disney show (remember Disney on Parade in the 1970's?!).  The kids and I loved the characters, the music, the magic and the fact that we could see Mickey live without going to his house in Orlando. It is an adorable and wonderfully entertaining show and kept the attention of the little ones without sacrificing the attention of the adults in the audience.  The 2 young men who kept the show moving are to be highly commended on their energy, acting, and showmanship.  However, this Disney fan nearly fell out of his seat when the greatest thing in the world happened on stage: Mickey's mouth moved when he spoke and his eyes continually blinked!!!!!!  He also removed his top hat and put on his sorcerer hat!!!   That alone was worth the price of admission to me!!  Seeing Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Daisy speak, sing, laugh, blink and wink was a highlight for me.  Kudos to the production company, the Disney folks, and everyone involved with putting together a show of which Walt would be proud.  I hope more Disney touring stage shows will be created, produced and brought to those of us who can't get to the theme parks to see our Disney friends.

    David Boggs, Fort Wayne, Indiana

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