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Of Mice, Men and Magic: The Human Component of "Mickey's Magic Show"

Of Mice, Men and Magic: The Human Component of "Mickey's Magic Show"

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The following behind-the-scenes tale comes by way of the 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 ... Though Richard Kaufman is probably best known as the editor & publisher of "Genii," Disneyana fans probably know Richard best for the book reviews that he does for MousePlanet. Speaking of the Mouse, if you head on over to Kaufman's blog, you can read some very interesting comments about Richard's most recent trip to the Tokyo Disney Resort.

And now ... On with the show!

GENII: When did the idea to have real magicians in the show come about?

BRAD: About three years ago, Jim Steinmeyer was already involved at that point. Kenneth Feld, the producer, said that if they were going to do this type of show, they wanted real magicians in it as opposed to just the characters. He wanted the show to be heavily about the magic.

GENII: That's unique-there are no non-Disney characters in the Feld "Disney on Ice" shows, no real people.

BRAD: There are a lot of "firsts" in this show. One is that there are two non-Disney characters, me and Alex, who are interacting with the characters. We are interacting, live, with the pre-recorded vocal tracks of the characters, all of whom are voiced by the same people who do the characters' voices in TV and movies. Another first is that the mouths of the characters move and their eyes blink, giving them a greater degree of realism.

GENII: The show most resembles "Playhouse Disney," a show performed in both Disney-MGM Studios in Orlando and Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim. It has a live performer who interacts with characters from "Bear in the Big Blue House," "Jo-Jo's Circus," "Stanley," and "The Book of Pooh." It functions the same way technically. How did both of you come to be involved?

BRAD: Steve Daley, who worked as "Tiny Bubbles" in "Showgirls of Magic" at the Hotel San Remo in Las Vegas, has been a friend of mine for several years-he's a wonderful guy. He called me in September, 2005 and told me that there was going to be a tour and they were looking for a young illusionist between the ages of 18 and 25. He thought I'd be perfect for the part and asked me to send my information. When I heard from my agent that it was going to be a Disney show produced by Kenneth Feld, I thought about Siegfried and Roy's show, Barnum & Bailey Circus, and the "Disney on Ice" shows but I had no idea what the scope of this show would be. I had been doing an illusion show at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey as well as a kid's Halloween show. Kenneth Feld, after viewing my DVD, came up to New Jersey with the director Jerry Bilik, and watched my show. And they hired me.

GENII: Alex, wasn't Steve Daley also involved in getting you cast?

ALEX: A few days before Christmas in 2005, I got a call from Tiny -- most of his friends call Steve "Tiny" -- who I'd met at the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas when I won the Lance Burton award. We kept in touch. He called me and said he had a project that he thought I'd be perfect for: "The producers are expecting your call tomorrow." The next day I spoke to an agent, Ron Severini, who was also Brad's agent from Castle Talent. He said that he wanted me to audition next week-with all my shows at holiday time I had only one day off. Fortunately we were able to arrange it for that day. And they hired me, too!

GENII: When did you begin rehearsal?

ALEX: Most of the cast flew into South Carolina on March 17 [2006]. We went right into the theater on Saturday and Sunday, doing readings, then went heavily into rehearsal on Monday.

GENII: The first time I saw the show was at the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Virginia in April, so you rehearsed for about a month …

ALEX: We rehearsed for five weeks …

BRAD: Then opened in previews in Columbia, South Carolina, and the show you saw in Virginia was still considered a preview.

GENII: How many weeks of previews did you do?

BRAD: We did four cities, Columbia, Baltimore, Fairfax, and Youngstown, Ohio. Then we opened here in Washington, D.C.

GENII: And these were theatrical venues, theaters, as opposed to arenas where sporting events are held.

BRAD: Most of the cast prefers working in the genuine theaters, but the arenas are cool, too, because of the number of people -- it plays into your dreams of performing as a kid.

GENII: When you have a large group like that, it can create a real electricity for the performer to feed off of.

BRAD: The magic and nostalgia of a real theatrical environment is great -- there's a certain charm to being in a theater …

GENII: … it's more intimate.

ALEX: The arena is fun because it reminds you of sporting events and to perform there is really cool because you see the stands, but it's not the same feel as when you're in a theater and you see a balcony and orchestra pit, and you can see the audience's faces.

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

BRAD: What's unique about this is show is the audience interaction. The kids come up and I do the magic with them on the edge of the stage, but there's also constant interaction with the kids in the audience throughout the show. So, when the houselights do come up we can see the people in the audience and interact with them directly.

GENII: Tell me about working with Jim Steinmeyer, since he designed all the magic in the show.

ALEX: Brad's 25, I just turned 21, and to actually be able to spend two weeks with Jim and pick his brain was unbelievable. We talked to him all about magic in general and the history of the illusions he put into this show.

GENII: I assume that some of the routines each of you do solo, "in one" [in front of the closed curtains during set changes], are items you were performing prior to being hired for this show.

BRAD: Right before Alex joined the project, I flew down to Palmetto where the Feld warehouses are, and I had a meeting with Jim, as well as Jerry, the director, and many other team members. It was during that time they asked me what magic I'd like to do in the show. At that point I was blown away because they asked me. One of the things I brought up when they told me they were going to hire a second magician was the idea of a Double Sawing. I always loved the trick, but we didn't know if Kenneth Feld and Disney would agree to it because of the saw involved.

GENII: But you don't saw!

BRAD: No, we don't.

GENII: You just insert the blades down in the boxes. Did Jim figure out just to put the blades in without sawing?

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

BRAD: I think so. When we found out that Kenneth loved the idea I was thrilled because it's the perfect illusion for two magicians to do. Throughout the entire process of working with Jim, and Alex will agree, too, there was never a feeling of Jim or anyone on the production team dismissing our ideas. They treated us as if we had as much experience, and our opinions had as much validity, as the other people involved. That meant a lot to us.

GENII: Alex, I assume you were doing Linking Rings before joining the show.

BRAD: Goofy taught him how to do it!

ALEX: (laughing) When I met with Brad, Jerry, Jim, and my manager, they all asked what I was already doing that I might like to do in the new show, so I felt a lot of freedom there. When we started rehearsals, I wanted to do the rings, but there were also other things I wanted to do. Jerry, the director, immediately said he loved the rings and insisted I do them in the show. I was doing the rings beforehand, but Goofy did not teach me. It was Mickey.

GENII: The show has changed through its previews as all shows do, but has the magic remained the same? Are the same illusions in the show now as in the first rehearsal?

BRAD: The magic is the one thing that has remained solid throughout.

ALEX: We have removed a few things, but nothing major.

BRAD: There were some transitional pieces removed during the rehearsal process … more audience interaction pieces. The first time we ran through the entire show in rehearsal it ran two hours and 45 minutes. So we had to cut things.

GENII: That's an accepted part of the process-shows always start long and are then tightened.

BRAD: Alex and I have genuine confidence in the show's production team. So if Kenneth Feld, or Jerry Bilik, or Jim Steinmeyer say to us that something isn't working, or it's too long, we've learned to trust them. They've been doing this for so many years and have learned what is going to work for an audience. So, when they watch the show as we were performing for live audiences during previews, they know what's working and what isn't, and what direction in which to move things to make it better. The changes have all been for the better.

ALEX: Most of the changes that have happened have been in the script. Brad and I got the final script the day before we opened. Brad and I are …

GENII: … quick studies!

ALEX: We are now! Throughout the final week of rehearsals, we knew that we didn't have the final script, which was sort of nerve-wracking, but they had enough faith in us that they felt confident in giving it to us the day before opening.

BRAD: And then it continued changing every day.

GENII: Have they shifted the order of the illusions in the show?

BRAD: The sequence of illusions has not, but the order of the acts have changed in the first half, but not the magic section of the second act.

GENII: Run through the show for me.

BRAD: The shows starts out with me and Alex being introduced to the audience …

ALEX: It's like a warm-up, with a few jokes as people are still being seated.

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

BRAD: I do a silk to cane, then Alex links two rings together, and I finish that section with a trick called "Bowl-a-Rama," where I produce a bowling ball. All three of these effects, which magicians see all the time, get great responses from laypeople.

GENII: That's because they've never seen them done live.

BRAD: As magicians we can become jaded, but the appearing cane gets an "oooo" from the audience.

ALEX: Brad was saying, "I don't know about doing that," and I said "It's the best effect in magic, along with throw streamers. You toss those out and every single time people go 'Whoa!"

BRAD: And that's what you need at the start. Next the "Magic-ettes" come out …

ALEX: Our Disney magician's assistants, five female dancers. They sing a song and welcome the audience and introduce our stars, Mickey and Minnie, who are soon joined by Donald, Daisy, and Goofy.

BRAD: Then Mickey introduces the first act, which is "Out of a Hat," performed by Alice [from Alice in Wonderland] and the Mad Hatter. They go into a cute number with Alex.

GENII: The large box upon which the hat rests is opened up early on in the number and you can see it's completely empty inside.

ALEX: Benny, my character, now joins the show and helps Alice and the Mad Hatter produce Goofy's hat, and lots of flowers and silks from the big hat. Goofy also joins in as a sort of magician's assistant. And then Goofy and I produce the White Rabbit from an enormous foulard that has come out of the hat. Then it's time to go, because of course they're late!

BRAD: Next Mickey comes out and does his "House of Cards" illusion. It's a card trick where Mickey displays a fan of jumbo cards, the audience selects one, and it changes into the Queen of Hearts. The loud roaring voice of the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland is heard and the "Magic-ettes" come out dressed like large playing cards.

ALEX: Alice returns and is joined by the Queen of Hearts, and the cards (Magic-ettes) do a dance number and the cards they're wearing all change into the Queen of Hearts. Then I jump out wearing a Goofy Joker card and the Queen yells out, "Off with his head!"

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

BRAD: I come out pushing a "Twister," which is the Queen's torture device, and Benny/Alex gets put inside. Goofy comes out and he does the twisting while trying to explain to me and Alice how to do things, and so he ends up twisting Benny by mistake. After he's untwisted, we exit.

GENII: There's a complete set change here and the entire Alice in Wonderland, Queen of Hearts set is struck and a Sorcerer's Apprentice "set" comes in. The Steinmeyer "Pole Levitation" is brought out. There's one broom off to the side.

BRAD: Then Mickey attempts to make a single broom rise, but he accidentally levitates Minnie …

ALEX: And then six brooms begin floating around the stage, taking on a life of their own as in the Sorcerer's Apprentice segment from Fantasia. It's an awesome effect and gets "ooos" and "ahs" every show. After Minnie descends from the "Pole Levitation," she and Mickey exit the stage as Brad enters and brings up a child helper from the audience.

BRAD: I select one kid from the audience and we perform a do-as-I-do "Paper Hat Tear."

GENII: Is that something which was already in your repertoire before this show?

BRAD: Yes. Then, in order to get rid of the ripped-up tissue from the kid's hat, we transform it into a flower botania, which Minnie then takes.

ALEX: Brad exits, then Minnie and Mickey introduce the next act, The Royal Palace of Toontown, and the curtains open to reveal a great set with an empty throne in the middle of the stage. Mickey takes a single rose and places it on the thrown, then the royal assistants Donald and Goofy come onstage and cover the thrown with a large curtain. When the curtains are then parted, Belle from Beauty and the Beast is sitting there. Next I come out again and, after saying hello to Belle, try to duplicate what Mickey did (hoping to produce the Beast as a prince) by putting a red rose on the throne and having Goofy and Donald close the curtain. This time, when it's opened, out comes Gaston. He interacts with Belle and they leave. Mickey puts another rose on the thrown, the curtains close and open, and Snow White is revealed. She sings a song and is interrupted by me, and I put another rose on the throne to try and produce Snow White's prince. Unfortunately, since my character Benny is just learning, he inadvertently produces the Old Hag. She asks Snow White if she wants any apples …

GENII: And Snow White has a terrific line here: "I won't make that mistake again!" It got a big laugh.

ALEX: Snow White always gets the largest response in the show. Next, Mickey takes another rose and places it on the thrown. After the curtains are closed and reopened, Cinderella appears. However she's in rags rather than her ball gown, and Mickey, Minnie, and Benny all go off to find her gown. The Fairy Godmother comes in and changes her rags into a gown during the Bibbity Bobbity Boo dance. There's also a sing-along with the kids from the audience who remind the Fairy Godmother of the words to the song.

BRAD: After the song is over, the Fairy Godmother and Cinderella notice me in the back, working on a box and I bring it forward. The Fairy Godmother tells me to go into the audience and borrow a pair of shoes. I bring up the pair of sneakers which are then turned into Cinderella's glass slippers in the box. The Fairy Godmother asks me to find two mice in the audience and, when I reply that there aren't any, she uses some magic and produces Jaq and Gus. They wheel on the royal carriage and Cinderella's dress of rags is turned into a ball gown. Goofy and I take the carriage off stage.

ALEX: The Fairy Godmother produces Prince Charming from the same throne. Then the Prince and Cinderella begin to dance, and they're joined by Mickey and Minnie, then Donald and Daisy, Jaq, Gus, and Goofy. This grand waltz is the end of the first act.

GENII: And the first act is longer than the second?

BRAD: The first act is 43 minutes long …

ALEX: … and the second act is 35 minutes.

GENII: From what I can see, the entire audio track for the show is pre-recorded with the exception of your two voices, and so there can never be any deviation in the timing.

BRAD: Correct, except for my audience participation segments or when we're interacting with the audience. When you have a cooperative kid come up as a volunteer you can go on for quite a while, and there are other kids that don't work out as well and so the interaction takes less time.

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

BRAD: The second act opens with me onstage to warm the audience up and I say that I was hoping to get some pizza. At that point Benny appears, delivering a pizza. Then I realize that I ordered a double-cheese pizza and they sent me a double pizza. And I do a version of the Sucker Die Box with a double-pizza box. It has been a staple of my kid show for a long time. It was originally in a different spot in this show, but we decided to put it right after intermission when the kids had just eaten something. Our prop department built this in a jumbo version and when Alex and I first saw it, we couldn't imagine being able to handle it. We literally thought it would be impossible to do because the prop was so big.

ALEX: But Jim, being the genius that he is, said, "It looked really good when you were fumbling, why don't you try it this way."

BRAD: It worked well in rehearsal and when we finally brought the kids in, they just went nuts over it.

ALEX: After the pizza trick is over and Brad finds the vanished pizza hanging on his back, the Magic-ettes come out and re-introduce Mickey and Minnie to actually begin the act. All throughout the show, as a running gag, Donald Duck has been aching to do his own special trick and now the time arrives. Donald enters to do his trick and, while he's not looking, the Magic-ettes and Daisy wheel on the "Colossal Cannon." They explain to Donald that he's going to be shot out of the cannon and his reaction is, naturally, "I don't think so." He runs off the stage. They look around for someone to shoot out of the cannon when Benny runs onstage, and he's more than happy to volunteer to be shot out of the cannon. They try to stuff me in the cannon, but I'm too big, so they wheel on a giant roller box called "Mickey's Magical Mashing Machine." I get put inside, then they roll me out in a flat version and they put the flat version of Benny into the cannon.

BRAD: At that point they wheel the cannon into position to fire Benny into the back of the theater, then Minnie explains that it could get messy so Mickey brings on the magical target. The cannon shoots Benny across the stage and he emerges from the target a little worse for wear. Benny and the cannon leave the stage and we transition into the magical land of Aladdin. We take the audience on a trip to Agrabah, with a new set, with Mickey and Minnie, then Goofy appears as the genie and shows Mickey how to use the magic carpet. The carpet dances around and Goofy chases it offstage, followed by a huge crashing sound. Then Goofy reappears on stage when they want to create Princess Jasmine by rubbing the lamp. Princess Jasmine appears as the curtains part and reveal her sitting on her couch. Jasmine is surprised that Aladdin isn't around, so Mickey and Minnie introduce me. I come out and Jasmine gives me the once over. Mickey then introduces the "best illusion of all," which is our levitation.

GENII: It's great that Jim convinced them to leave it alone and let it be what it is-black background, stars.

BRAD: The music went through changes-originally it was an all-male a cappella group and it was very slow. Now it works better and leaves the audience wanting more. So Jasmine floats up, then down, and I pass the hoop over her. Then she floats up again to about nine or 10 feet-and so do I, which is a bit shock to the audience.

GENII: At that moment, I looked at the laymen and it seemed that, in that instant, they really felt they were watching a magic show.

ALEX: That's the beauty of this presentation. The first act is really a Disney show, while the second act is more the "Magic" show. A lot of adults aren't expecting that and the second act really brings them into it.

BRAD: Jim, Alex, and I talked a lot about how the first act is a magic show within a show, whereas the second act is a pure magic show and the kick-off is the levitation. In one of the early previews in Columbia, Jim sat behind a father and daughter in the balcony. During the first part of the show, the father just sort of nodded to agree with the daughter's enthusiastic remarks, but when the levitation took place, and when I floated up after Jasmine, the father shook his head and said, "Wow." At that moment Jim knew it was perfect.

GENII: I wish there were more moments like that in the show.

BRAD: We do as well. Feld shows are always 100 percent about the audience, and as time goes on and they start testing the audiences, I wouldn't be surprise if things are added or changed.

ALEX: This show is always a work in progress. Now, after the levitation, Mickey and Minnie congratulate Brad, officially complimenting him in front of the audience, then he takes Jasmine back to Agrabah.

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

BRAD: Now Benny comes back on. He's still trying to unlink the same two rings-this is a running gag throughout the show-and Mickey and Minnie give him a pep talk because they want to see him succeed as well. This is where the story line comes together, with Mickey and Minnie approving of both of us.

ALEX: As Brad mentioned, at the beginning of the show I link the two rings, but have been unable to unlink them since. Mickey tells me to believe in myself and I'll be able to do it. In the polls they've taken after the show, parents have remarked a lot about this particular message because it's so positive. So, Benny says he'll continue to practice and I leave.

BRAD: Mickey and Minnie then turn the show over to me and we do two illusions from my existing repertoire from Six Flags. There's an audience participation spot involving a "Substitution Trunk" with one of the Magic-ettes who switches places with me. Then I introduce our "Air Memory Box," where we save up the air from each city we go to, then the air turns into smoke and the smoke turns into Benny.

ALEX: After I emerge from the smoke chamber, the audience can still see me fussing with the two linked rings and Brad asks me how it's going. I say, "I thing I've finally go it," and Brad gives me a bit of encouragement and I go into my Linking Ring routine with six rings -- something from my existing repertoire. After I've linked all the rings, Mickey joins me on stage and I do the "lean."

GENII: Was your performance of the Linking Rings directed by Jerry Bilik?

ALEX: Not at all. They gave us lots of freedom and told us that they hired us because we already did these things well.

BRAD: One of the things that's given us the most pride in the show is the way they've always come back to me and Alex, as magicians, and consulted us about costume, music, and choreography to make the magic the most effective it can be.

GENII: After the Linking Rings …

BRAD: Mickey and I come back on stage and congratulate Benny on all of his hard work that finally paid off.

GENII: And now you're equals: both qualified magicians. Benny has graduated from being a bumbler to a success.

ALEX: Brad and I both say that we want to show our favorite illusion and Mickey suggests that we perform it together, and out comes the Double Sawing. Mickey exits, our assistants come out, and we perform the routine: two thin model sawings. Each of our assistants is wearing a different color outfit and, after they're cut in half, we switch the lower portions of the boxes. When they're restored and come out of the boxes, the lower half of their outfits are switched as well.

BRAD: This gets a huge reaction from the audience.

GENII: The kids all think it's very funny.

BRAD: After the Double Sawing, Mickey comes back onstage and gives us his seal of approval on everything, but we still can't find Donald Duck because he's been missing since he ran offstage during his cannon illusion. Since we need someone to do "Donald's Special Disappearing Duck Illusion" and he's not around, I go into the cage -- a "Lion's Bride" illusion. Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Benny, and Daisy cover the cage and, when the cloth is removed, I've vanished and Donald has taken my place. Then all of a sudden I go missing on stage and Mickey asks, "Where's Brad?" I turn around dressed as Benny, and Benny then appears in the audience.

Copyright 2006 Disney Enterprises, Inc.

ALEX: Brad says to Mickey, "What do you have to say?" And Mickey says, "Let's make some magic" and we do a double Silk Fountain, then we do a small Snowstorm and go into the finale which brings everybody back onto the stage with singing and dancing. Small fireworks go off and confetti shoots out.

GENII: And the kids love it. My daughter saw the show twice and would like to see it again-which is, I'm sure, exactly what Kenneth Feld had in mind.

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