"Whole world's comin' to an end," said Mickey Knox to Mallory in Natural Born Killers, and judging by the economic news he might have been right. Despite Obama's ascendancy, the darkness doesn't look to get any lighter in the near future, especially for our arts-based businesses. In recent weeks, the Plaza Theatre shut down its theatrical productions in favor of being a concert rental hall, effectively ending Gramercy Theatre's season. And in Winter Garden the loss of a major grant has crashed Jester Theater Company's production of Noises Off. Arts groups around the area are looking for ways to pare costs, boost audiences and simply live through the lean times.

None of this seems to be dissuading supporters of the proposed Dr. P. Phillips Orlando Performing Arts Center from charging ahead: Read Jeffrey C. Billman's recent article ("Reality bites," Jan. 22) for the lowdown on the financial vise that is squeezing the venues package. I've got a perverse respect for DPAC chairman Jim Pugh's tenacity in the face of reality ("My reaction is they'll just have to find the money," he told the Sentinel Jan. 14 regarding the tourist-tax shortfall. "I wouldn't let them off the hook.") But may I (once again) make a modest suggestion? Just forget about it.

Imagine we eliminate the overengineered architecture, abandon the unrentable "mixed use" commercial integration, and eliminate the six-figure executive salaries and legal bills. Pretend we weaned ourselves off interest-bearing bond issues and relied instead on secured grants and whatever fraction of the $86 million in private pledges actually materializes. Visualize that money being pumped directly into local arts on a grass-roots level: subsidizing affordable rents in modest downtown venues, underwriting living wages for hands-on arts administrators, investing in sending artists into our underfunded schools. Would that do more to cultivate culture in Orlando than a brick-and-mortar bid for bragging rights?

Of course, I'm talking nonsense; such a scheme is as likely to happen as winning the lottery. Then again, that's one of the fantasies that magician David Copperfield promises to make come true when he comes to town for two shows Thursday, Jan. 29. (How's that for a segue?) He's best known for super-scaled illusions involving the Statue of Liberty and the Great Wall of China, but apparently he finds the often-maligned Bob Carr spacious enough for another return engagement. This time he's presenting an "intimate evening of grand illusions" which mixes new tricks with greatest hits in a bid to "take your dreams (and maybe a few nightmares) and make them become reality." I'm a longtime fan because, unlike the Blaines and Angels of the magic world, he's a first-rate showman without pretensions of supernatural spirituality (though he did badly blow a trick or two the last time I saw him in Vegas). So I was pleased he spared me a few e-minutes for this virtual interview.

One of the headliner illusions of your new tour is "The Lottery," which purports to "share the secret technique for predicting the winning numbers." Are you afraid of bankrupting the Florida Lotto? It's our state government's primary revenue stream now.

No. Anything I can do to help the economy!

You've visited Orlando a number of times over the years. Is there anything distinctive or memorable about the audience volunteers you've encountered?

One time Shaq came to the show and we pulled him up onstage and he did one of my illusions for me. Actually, I just put it back in the show. It's the one that I shrink myself down to 1 foot in height, but with Shaq, who is just over 7 feet, it was a bit more challenging. Luckily it worked just fine.

When you were in Moscow, your equipment was held for ransom (and later recovered); in West Palm Beach you were mugged at gunpoint. Where do you feel safer: Florida or Russia?

I feel safest when I am onstage surrounded by my friends, an amazing audience.

Houdini, Kreskin, Ricky Jay, James Randi, yourself — why are so many great magicians Jewish?


Are you a theme-park fan? Do you have a favorite illusion in one of the local attractions?

I love Tower of Terror at Disney. The 3-D Spiderman ride at Universal is amazing and the nostalgia and charm of Pirates of the Caribbean still inspires me.

Fox's secret-exposing Masked Magician fad burned itself out, but now you have amateurs explaining effects in Internet videos. How do you preserve the "magic" in an age of YouTube?

By simply moving forward and taking magic in new and different directions … besides, what is on the Internet and masked-magician TV shows are quite inaccurate.

In 2006 you announced that you'd discovered the mythical "fountain of youth" on Musha Cay, your island chain in the Bahamas, and that biologists were investigating its healing properties. The islands are also available for rent as a private luxury resort. Does the tourism interfere with the scientific research, and is the rejuvenation fluid included in the daily rate?

All I can tell you right now is that I'm actually 87 years old! So use your own judgment!

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