“Could it be magic?” sang British Pop Group Take That in the mid 1990s, presumably after seeing a woman being sawed in half by a man in a sparkly tuxedo. The answer is no, it probably wasn’t magic. Most magic isn’t anything supernatural at all – it may be sleight of hand, smoke-and-mirrors trickery or just impressively high pain thresholds but it’s not real magic. But why would you let common sense spoil a good show? Magic as entertainment has been around since ancient times, encompassing a wide variety of acts, and modern magicians have to work harder than ever to wow cynical audiences. So, which acts leave a lasting impression? Find out in our Top 10 Most Impressive Magic Acts.
10. David Blaine
Nowadays, David Blaine seems to be more interested in suicide missions than in performing the kind of street magic that made his name. He’s lived in a water tank for a week, hung upside down over Wollman Rink in Central Park and electrocuted himself for 72 hours. The very fact that he lives on despite these stunts is a kind of magic in itself, but it was the simple tricks he performed on the street that really gave him the edge over other magicians. Forget attention-seeking razzle-dazzle and millionaire sponsored stunts, the act of flipping a card through a shop window left passers-by speechless. Get back to what you’re good at, David!
9. Harry Blackstone, Sr
If you were wondering where the cliches of magic came from, you need to look to the pioneering magicians of the 1920s and 30s, who first performed tricks like sawing a woman in half. One of these early magicians was Harry Blackstone, Sr, who performed mainly silently, to the accompaniment of an orchestra. His signature tricks included the “Dancing Handkerchief”, the “Floating Lightbulb” and the “Vanishing Birdcage”. The latter involved disappearing a canary and is said to have delighted the children in the audience, although if 2006 film “The Prestige” is to be believed, it mainly resulted in a lot of dead canaries. Birdicide aside, Harry Blackstone Sr was a highly influential and revered magician, whose legacy was passed on to his son Harry Blackstone Jr.
8. Siegfried and Roy
Magic acts occupy a long spectrum, from the overblown theatrical illusions to pared-down street magic. Siegfried and Roy sit firmly on one end of that spectrum. Their act included glittery costumes, dramatic music and famously, live white tigers. Siegfried Fischbacher and Roy Horn met in 1959 while working on a cruise ship, and the fortuitous presence of a cheetah on board (smuggled on by Roy) inspired them to combine wild animals and Siegfried’s magic in an unprecedented display of zoological razzle-dazzle. Eventually, the act was given a residency at The Mirage Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, and they were the most popular show in Vegas for the 13 years they performed there.
Sadly, in 2003 Roy was bitten by one of their tigers – Montecore – which effectively ended their careers. Although the act was not aggressive, it was a huge risk for the hotel and they closed the show. Siegfried and Roy – and Montecore – reunited for a farewell show in 2009 but are unlikely to perform again.
7. Derren Brown
A world away from the glitz of Siegfried & Roy, Derren Brown is a softly-spoken, intense illusionist from the UK who has a series of macabre and impressive feats to his name. He has predicted the results of the lottery, conducted a nationwide seance and convinced someone into assassinating comedian Stephen Fry. His brand of magic is certainly dark and he describes himself as a “mentalist” i.e someone who is more concerned with influencing others’ thoughts than doing visual tricks. The results are equally astonishing, but give you the uneasy impression that someone is trying to get into the edge of your mind…
6. David Devant
The first President of the Magic Circle was both modest and self-assured – when young magicians boasted about how many tricks they knew, he replied that he knew only a few dozen, but he was able to perform them very well. His magic was, at the time, criticized for being too showy and lacking mystique, but his witty stage act paved the way for magician-entertainers for years to come. His repertoire included “Magic Kettle” where he produced, on demand, any type of alcohol the audience asked for. He was also influential in early cinema, being one of the first to purchase a theatrograph, showing it first in London in 1896. His legacy is clear in the world of magic, but also in the world of music where the indie band David Devant and his Spirit Wife bear his name.