Doug Henning's magic is all you could possibly want it to be: astonishing and amusing and accomplished. But there is something else that makes it special -- a genial, gentle quality that lets you in and then does the best magic of all. It reawakens your sense of wonder and reminds you that all things are possible, even when they seem improbable.
Henning opened his current "World of Magic" show at the Warner Theatre last night (it runs through Sunday) and it's full of classic magic, the old-fashioned, intimate kind that seems less an exhibition than an invitation to share mysteries. Which is not to say there aren't spectacular effects and illusions: Transformations, levitations, flotations, metamorphoses, escapes, dematerializations and what can only be described as body-rebuilding abound. There's even a tiger, a black panther and four lively dancing assistants. But mostly there's Henning, a smile and a blast of wonder away from his best transformation -- that of the audience into believers.
Henning proved to be something of a classicist. He worked with such standard props as cards and coins, flying handkerchiefs, rings and mirrors, but always used them to special effect.
He tore a newspaper into shreds and healed it; he passed solids through solids, animated the inanimate, conjured somethings out of nothings, did some sleight of hand (projected on large screens). He set the audience up, suggesting a trick before turning it inside out and reestablishing the magic. He showed how to be in two locked places, if not at once then no more than a second apart (and on a motorcycle at that). Doug Henning's not just a magician, he's a wizard of awes.
Debby Henning, Doug's wife, gets in on this act with some strong illusions of her own. The two-hour show is beautifully paced, the lighting and music illuminating yet never overwhelming. And of course the audience participation is wonderfully natural and almost always revealing.
But in the beginning as in the end, it all comes back to Doug Henning. Even when the material is familiar (from past shows or television specials) he brings it alive with amazing grace, and you sense his faith in the power of his art. Early on, you might wonder, might guess, how something is done. In the end, you don't really want to know. You just want the show to go on. And on.