LA Magic

Great magic convinces you that the hand is truly quicker than the eye, and that everything you learned in high school physics no longer applies. For great magic, Southern California is blessed with three excellent venues: The Magic Castle, Magicopolis, and Wizardz Magic Dinner Theater. From miracles with cards and coins, to birds that seemingly fly from nowhere, to large-scale illusions that levitate, decapitate, and separate, these three venues deliver magic goods that leave you laughing, baffled, and awestruck.

If you've never experienced a professional magic show, you'll find that it is highly entertaining live theater in itself. Whether you see it on a stage, or up close on a table, this is the way magic was meant to be seen in the art's long tradition, leagues beyond televised magic shows. If images of stuffy black tuxedos, stiff top hats, and fast-appearing rabbits are all that come to mind when you think of magic, think again. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the artistry, comedy, panache, and mystery that the performers in Southern California's venues bring to the art.

One other note: when you see a live magic show, don't be surprised or rattled if a magician picks you to select cards, or participate in the show. It's all in the fun, and part of the interaction that makes magic happen (but you do have to remember which card you picked). Each of LA's three magic venues has its own strengths, but in a flash of light, the appearance of a dove, or the location of a card, they'll undoubtedly make a believer out of you.

The Magic Castle
If the world of magic has a center, it lies in a classy Victorian mansion in Hollywood that's known internationally as The Magic Castle. The Castle is many things: a showcase for the world's best magicians, headquarters for the Academy of Magical Arts, and an exclusive club for magicians and fans of magic.

To visit the Castle, you must know a current member who can give you a guest pass, which gets you into the doors. Once you're in, you experience dinner and a full evening of magic that's presented in three different theaters and can consist of up to seven amazing acts. Without a doubt, The Magic Castle serves up the most magic of any of the venues in a single evening.

The Magic Castle itself is an elegant old house with a mysterious air. The labyrinth of hallways may bring to mind a graceful Winchester mansion, and the tradition of magic is everywhere. In one room, Irma, an invisible, ghostly piano player will play almost any tune you can think of, and answers your questions in humorous song. Also part museum, The Castle features areas that honor magic's best, including Blackstone and Dai Vernon, and there are magic and show biz relics on display.

You can see stage acts in the Palace of Mystery. Here, on any given night, you're bound to see a conjurer with birds, and two other magicians with large-scale illusions. The Parlor of Prestidigitation offers stand-up magic, with two separate acts a night. Magicians here perform miracles with ropes, cards, rings, and more, and may blow you away with some amazing mind-reading. Finally, there's the intimate close-up gallery, where you can watch the cards, coins, and more as a magician works the table. Acts change weekly, and there are shows seven nights a week. And beyond the theaters, you're likely to catch magicians performing impromptu throughout the Castle.

As the world headquarters for the Academy of Magical Arts, the Magic Castle is an exclusive club for magicians, who audition to become members. For these members, the Castle library houses a comprehensive collection of books, magazines, and writings on the art. The Castle is also a popular place for magicians to simply hang out and swap stories and secrets.

With a guest pass, you'll pay a $10 cover charge to get in, even before dinner. The Castle's ambiance is elegant, and the food is first rate. Entries and a dessert for two can run into the $60-70 range. With dinner, you receive passes that guarantee you seats in the Palace of Mystery theater. Seating is still first come, first served, so it's best to get in line as early as you can.

A few tips: when you arrive, be sure to review the show schedules at the entrance to the close-up room, or in front of the Palace of Mystery, and plan your evening around your dinner reservation time, and the show times. On most nights, allow at least fifteen minutes prior to each parlor and close-up show to get in line. The close-up room has the most limited seating, so allow the most line time for this theater. Keep in mind that the acts in the parlor and close-up rooms change mid-evening, and you can see an entirely different show in the same room after 10:00.

Even with a guest pass, you must make a reservation ahead of time. The Castle has a strict dress code--men must wear a tie, coat, and dress shoes, and woman need dressy apparel as well. No children are allowed into The Castle, except for Sunday brunches. On Sunday afternoons, a meal is part of the deal, and families get to see a big stage act (typically a shortened version of the stage act that is appearing that week), a kid-oriented parlor act, and close-up magic performed by the Castle's junior members (magicians under 21). On Sunday afternoons, the Castle lifts the dress code.

Without a doubt, there's no magic venue in Southern California–or, for that matter, the world--that has the history and, well magic, of The Magic Castle. If you're lucky enough to know a member, do not miss an opportunity to visit it.

The new kid on Southern California's magic block is Magicopolis, and while it's only a couple of months old, it's already a seasoned pro. Magicopolis serves up astounding magic in a classy venue that's one block from Santa Monica's popular Third Street Promenade. Here you can see a solid lineup of large-scale stage acts, along with close-up magic. If you like your magic straight, without having to eat a meal, Magicopolis is the place to go, and it costs the least.

Magicopolis offers a roomy stage theater with comfortable seats that are set on a steep incline. There's hardly a bad seat in the house, except for the extreme right and left front rows. The steep incline will even let a five-year-old sit behind a basketball player and still see all the action--a marvelous venue for magic watching. The smaller Hocus Pocus room seats up to 40 people so they may watch intimate close-up magic. The seats in the back are a bit distant to catch the fine nuances of cards and coins, so it's best to grab a seat in the first four rows.

Unlike SoCal's other magic venues, a Magicopolis show involves no meals–you visit to watch great magic. There is a bar in the front that serves snacks, coffee, and soft beverages. You make reservations for shows, and once you arrive, you get in line, and then seat yourself in the theater. Magicopolis also hosts kids' birthday parties that includes pizza, a cake, and a show.

Resident magician Bob Sheets performs captivating close-up magic with cards, dice, balls, and more, in the lobby's front bar. Sheets is also a big part of the stage show, where he levitates audience members, finds cards by stabbing them, and performs a mind-warping rope trick---and he does it all with lots of humor. Along with Sheets, there are usually two other major acts in the stage show, often magic comedy acts, or big-time illusions by noted artists such as Greg Wilson, and the Gamesters.

The night we attended, we saw an amazing display of sleight-of-hand artistry in the close-up room by James Lewis, who climaxed his routine by making coins penetrate a glass table. Most acts at Magicopolis run for a month or longer, so you have plenty of time to catch an act, and go back to see it again if you wish. You can check out the Web page at www.magicopolis for show times and acts.

As a facility, Magicopolis lacks the techno-glitz of Wizardz, or the decor and elegance of The Magic Castle, but its simple, somewhat industrial, look lends itself to the magic within. The impressive stained-glass windows in the lobby depict magic's greats: Kellar, Thurston, Houdini, and more. The front of the facility may be rather modest, but true magic does lie within.

Magicopolis offers the lowest cost magic shows in LA–you can see an impressive twenty-minute close-up act for as little as $10. Also, there's no dress code, and kids are welcome. One note: if you're not fond of kids, you may want to avoid the afternoon shows, which tend to include birthday parties. But you can easily make an afternoon out of some shopping and eating at the Promenade, and then cap the day with wonderful magic. Or travel to Santa Monica just to see the magic–it's worth it.

Wizardz Magic Dinner Theater
Nestled squarely in the tourist mecca that is Universal Studios' CityWalk, Wizardz Magic Dinner Theater delivers a dazzling, entertaining dinner show that's squarely for the family. You can't miss Wizardz' opulent facade in the center of City Walk–it's beyond the hanging King Kong and near the shooting fountains.

On any given night, Wizards showcases three engaging acts: a bird act, a comedy routine, and, for the finale, large-scale illusions. The mix is visual, well-paced, and as enchanting to youngsters as it is to their parents. Wizardz also hosts lots of foreign guests, who don't need to understand English to enjoy the show. The performers are well known magicians such as Ed Alonzo and Chuck Jones, and the three-tiered line-up changes weekly. Also, warming up the crowd and closing the show is an impressive laser-light show.

The large Theater of Illuzionz seats 280 for dinner, and the enormous stage gives performers lots of room to work their magic. Wizardz is a dinner show, and you have your choice of sirloin steak, grilled chicken, or vegetable lasagna, and there's a chicken tenders kids' meal. If you opt for the Sunday afternoon show, you can save a few dollars.

Wizardz is a great destination for birthday parties, celebrations, and special events. During the laser light show, you can have your event spelled out in large letters, and this sequence elicits lots of spirited yelling from the crowd. The best tables are in the front and center of the theater. Back tables are distant, and the levels above the main floor offer excellent views of the stage--however, the magic is most impressive at stage level. You can arrange your table's location when you make your reservation.

Besides the magical dinner shows, there's more to Wizardz. Next to the theater is the Magic Potionz Bar. This high-tech, neon bar serves specialty drinks, and roaming close-up magicians will astound you at your table. Also, there are tarot card and palm readers, whose services you may request at additional cost. And if all this magic inspires you to learn a little of your own, you can visit the Wizardz Wonderz Gift Shop for tourist-priced magic tricks. In all, it's a fun and memorable experience.