That old black magic 

For a disgruntled toehead whose only interest in magic lies in wondering how Olivia Newton-John kept her perm while rollerskating off the wall in "Xanadu," an audience with the people's magician, David Copperfield, elicits only furrowed-brow curiosity. Magic, you see, is this year's lipgloss, thanks to J.K. Rowling and J.R.R. Tolkien. What I'd really like to ask is, how did you make Claudia Schiffer's career disappear?

Hey, wait a minute, maybe he can make us all disappear! Hey, wait a minute, maybe he already has!

It's a kinder, gentler, manlier David Copperfield who appeared this week for stints at the Bob Carr and the King Center in Melbourne. Gone is the hair that resembled an AquaNet power-poof, replaced by something more like a Madison Avenue go-boy chop. Sigfried and Roy must be frothing at their locked mouths. How does he stay so magical?

"Well, when you perform over 500 shows a year, like I do," he conjures, "you better like what you do! For me, performing magic is pleasure -- it has been since I was a kid in Metuchen, N.J., impressing girls in the fifth grade. ..."

Girls! New Jersey! You're a liar and all of your magic is fake!

"Magicians have always encountered this, no matter what," he wands in the face of my naysay. "But you know the bottom line is this: Magic caters to a spirit of reverence and mystery, and it is the magician, above all other theatrical and performing artists, who must carry this torch of wonder. His art speaks to a primordial emotion inside us all."

I've got a wonder torch somewhere beneath my primordial emotions, I'm sure, but I'm not using it to make people gasp and the Statue of Liberty disappear. Well, I do make my parents gasp and boyfriends disappear. What makes your magic more entertaining than mine?

"I'll give the cerebral answer," he aneurysms.

"You know, the easiest thing in the world is to come up with an excuse not to do something. I found that the most important thing in life is to stop saying 'I wish,' and start saying 'I will.' Whenever I pursued my dreams, I discovered something astonishing -- I discovered myself! My secret has been to consider nothing impossible. Then to treat possibilities as probabilities and practice, practice, practice!"

Well, I can make straight-guy possibilities into drunken-night probabilities, but they still escape like Houdini. Speaking of which, Copperfield's current tour boasts the first-ever traveling display of toys from his Museum of Magic: y'know, handcuffs, magic wands ... Hey, wait a minute! Are you flirtin' with me?

"Quite frankly, Houdini wasn't really the greatest magician around," he sniffs. "Yes, he was quite an amazing escape artist, but when it came to simple magic, there were others that were far better. Houdini was, however, a master of self-promotion, and it made him a legend."

As, apparently, it has for Copperfield. That, and the fact his name is suspiciously linkable to the Charles Dickens pity-party tome about abused children. Like those fifth-grade New Jersey girls, no doubt. He just wants to make people feel good ... then disappear.

"No doubt the success has afforded me the opportunity to effect positive change in people's lives," he flourishes. "For example, Project Magic. It's a program I started over a decade ago that helps stroke victims and those with learning disabilities regain their manual dexterity and increase self-esteem through the sleight of hand. The program is now in 1,000 hospitals in over 30 countries around the world. It is probably the achievement in my career I am most proud of."

I rather preferred the bit where he walked through the Berlin Wall. And guess what? It disappeared! These days, he's toiling in the time-space department, toting a show titled "Portal" and giving onlookers (and himself) the chance to momentarily relocate.

"I suppose it's for the desire to feel like I am getting some R&R, in far-flung locations -- usually tropical, as that's where I often go on vacations," he daydreams. "So I decided to find a way to 'get away' on a little vacation for a few minutes each night, and I do it in the middle of the show. Hence, 'Portal' was born. Each night I take an audience member with me to some great, tropical location.

The process of random selection and the steps involved on the stage show the audience that there is no camera trickery or special effects taking place. It is truly an astonishing illusion!"

Truly. But what if somebody doesn't come back? Has anything ever gone wrong with an "illusion"?

"Oh yes, a couple of times," he flubs. "One I remember off the top of my head happened in Lake Tahoe with a red Ferrari. I was levitating it to above my head. Then, halfway up, it just stopped, and came crashing to the stage floor. Fortunately I hadn't gotten under it yet. Unfortunately, it was the final illusion of the evening, so I had nothing to move on to. The curtain closed and that was it for the night. Hence, this illusion has been relegated to 'display' status in my warehouse."

Sort of like my red Geo that magically flipped upside down last week and is now relegated to "display" status in my brother's yard. Anyway, David. Final question: Are you human, or just some mystical pawn empowered by the forces of evil and television ratings?

"There is NO witchcraft or occult in what I do if that is what you are referring to," he stormclouds. "What audiences see on stage and on TV is definitely an illusion."

As, now, am I. Poof!

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