Psst. Hey, buddy. You wanna see a trick? The “Masters of Illusion” tour brings magic to Washington in all of its varied mystical forms. Be dazzled by card tricks! Worry as a man levitates his wife! Become hypnotized by the dulcet tones of a singing magician! Three of the tour’s performers — Farrell Dillon, Mark Kalin and Darren Romeo — offered us a peek at the magical styles coming to Strathmore on Saturday and Sunday.
Mark Kalin might technically be the magician half of “Kalin and Jinger,” but he knows where he ranks. “We were in a show in Atlantic City, and had just done an afternoon show with a lot of families in it,” recounts Kalin. “I was walking through the casino and there was a little boy who tugged his mom’s sleeve and said, ‘Look! There’s Jinger’s magician!’”
Jinger is Jinger Leigh, Kalin’s wife of nearly 20 years — about as long as they’ve worked together. “The chemistry was onstage first. The personal relationship followed very quickly afterwards,” Kalin says.
The couple “operate on the ‘grand-illusion’ scale,” Kalin says. That means flashy: “You’ll see Jinger levitate; you’ll see her vanish.” But Jinger isn’t just there to fill out a sparkly
bathing suit. “She’s such a striking performer in her own right, particularly if you compare her to the classic cliché of the dumb assistant,” Kalin says. “What I bring to it is sort of a very casual, everyday quality — she’s the glamour.”
“When I first began in magic, there was nobody greater than Siegfried & Roy, and they did grand illusion,” he explains. “Once I hooked up with Jinger, she was quite theatrical, so it just became natural.”
The show isn’t all floating women. “There is a small portion where I get a chance to do the very first trick that I learned, when I was 9, out of a book,” Kalin says. He makes billiard balls multiply, seemingly out of thin air.
“Sometimes magic has a simple art and beauty in simplicity,” he says. “The art is to do it in a way that is not only technically masterful, but has a certain energy to it.”
“The more you explain it, the worse it sounds,” jokes Darren Romeo, who combines Broadway-style show tunes with grand illusions. “Magic is just like music — it’s a universal language. I use music as an emotional tool.”
One of Romeo’s signature numbers is “The Music of the Night,” from “The Phantom of the Opera.” The song is about the seductive power of music, “and I use the symbolism of the magic to explore the symbolism in the song and perpetuate the story,” Romeo says. Of course, in the original show, love interest Christine doesn’t levitate, as she does in Romeo’s version.
Romeo began combining his love for singing and his passion for magic early in his career. “I realized that singing and acting was as much a part of my soul as anything else. It was my dad who said, ‘Hey, you’re named after [singer] Bobby Darin, so why don’t you do a tribute to your namesake?’ I said, ‘Dad, I’m never going to do that.’”
But he did: In one of his first public performances, Romeo did a trick based on Darin’s “Dream Lover,” in which he made a girl appear from seemingly nowhere. That kind of sweet, pop sensibility is what Romeo brings to traditional magic.
“It’s one thing to fool an audience and another thing to touch an audience,” he says. “That’s a heavy responsibility. It’s beyond ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh.’”
On the grandiosity spectrum, Farrell Dillon’s act is the simplest of the “Masters of Illusion” roundup. There are no animals, no lasers, no assistant.
“All the magicians in the show have their giant props, and then I have this little box,” Dillon explains. “They always joke that all my talent fits in that box.”
Inside the box are props — cards, cups and scarves that Dillon makes disappear, reappear and turn into other stuff. He performs what he terms “manipulative magic,” which relies mainly on the sleight-of-hand artistry of the craft’s old school.
“I started doing it when I was 12, and that’s what I fell in love with,” he says. “I wanted to learn the thing where the guy makes cards appear in his fingertips.” Dillon mastered that and more in his studies at California’s venerable Chavez Studio of Magic. He’s since built comedy and escapology into his show.
You can see many of Dillon’s tricks on YouTube, though the sparkle gets lost in video translation. “Magic is an art you have to see live,” he says. “It requires a lot more suspension of disbelief to watch it live and then believe what you’ve seen.”
Talk Like A Magician: Deciphering Illusionist Lingo
Grand Illusions: Does it have a tiger or lasers or a giant thing that disappears? Then it’s probably a grand illusion, a Vegas-style stunt that features big things exploding, levitating or vanishing.
Platform or Parlor Magic: Relies on sleight of hand and small props; it’s smaller in scale than grand illusions but not as intimate as close-up magic.
Close-Up Magic: A style of performance in which the audience is quite close to the performer. It usually involves everyday objects, such as cards, rings or coins. This is the type to learn if you want to impress/annoy people at bars.
Escapology: Involves getting out of things people probably shouldn’t get into in the first place, like straightjackets, locked coffins or ill-conceived marriages to reality stars.
Mentalism: This style attempts to convince the audience that the performer can read minds or control others’ thoughts. Do this too successfully and run the risk of being burned at the stake.
Occlumency: This is in “Harry Potter.” It’s not a real thing.The Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda; Sat. & Sun., 8 p.m.; $25-$65; 301-581-5100. (Grosvenor)