Somewhere along the road of his career, magician David Copperfield discovered there are two things that people enjoy more than magic: humor and spectacle.
And in his current touring stage show, the show he's brought to Salt Lake City for four performances, those two things get top billing right along with the illusions.Humor: Seeded into the suspense, the high-gloss costumes and Top 40 music, we get a "death defying duck" that actually dares walk through pillow factories; a duck that revels being shot from guns and "slaps three" instead of "five" to congratulate himself.
We see chickens and ducks swapping heads, watch as front-row volunteers do incredible feats and watch the star lip-sinc renditions of Mr. Rogers and Frank Sinatra.
We meet Copperfield as a rather slow and not-sure-novice mistaking "banana" for "bandanna" and folding the former into a woman's pocketbook.
As for spectacle, we see dancers, women in exotic outfits and several costume changes, not to mention your basic star-studded, planetarium backdrop of the universe and dozens of light, smoke and mirror effects.
And, of course, we get the illusions.
Many, many illusions.
Trained eyes could tell you exactly what goes on up there, of course. And one does sense the same basic, Houdini-esque principles of magic at work in several skits. But Copperfield's genius is not just in his dedication, but his imagination. He always thinks BIG.
He doesn't walk through any wall, it has to be the Great Wall of China. (He shows a film of the event during his show.)
He doesn't just make pretty ladies disappear, but vanishes jets and the Statue of Liberty.
When he escapes, no escape is too good for him. As the clincher to the show he recreates an escape from Alcatraz on stage complete with a cell from Alcatraz itself and police force chasing him.
As the man says, "That's show-biz, folks."
Naturally, part of the purpose of the elaborate props is to confuse the eye. The audience can never be sure what is mere trapping and what's a needed device.
And the humor serves to keep the crowd distracted so people don't hear and see every click and spin on stage.
But after all's said and done, the selling point of David Copperfield is Copperfield himself. His magic is not his illusion so much as his charm.
"I read minds," he says at the beginning, "and the answers are 29 and `no.' "
"Twenty-nine" refers to his age and "no" is his answer to the question "Is your real name David Copperfield?"
"Actually," he says, "my real name is Magic Johnson, but I had to change it because someone else was using it."
Copperfield has been in the business so long now he can pick and choose his people and pick and choose what works. Many of these illusions were the same ones seen by a BYU audience last year. He keeps some of the old chestnuts, throws a few older tricks out, then adds a new trick or two on top. It keeps his show professional and practiced.
In the end, they say there's a boy in every big-time baseball player. But there's also a boy in every big-time magician.
And Copperfield prides himself on being big time. BIG big time.