Illusionist has more than just your standard bag of tricks

Biggest magic show outside Las Vegas to come to college

Illusionist Kevin Spencer does not shy away from danger in his traveling extravaganza of magic, “Spencers: Theatre of Illusion.” Enlarge photo

Courtesy of Spencers Magic

Illusionist Kevin Spencer does not shy away from danger in his traveling extravaganza of magic, “Spencers: Theatre of Illusion.”

Illusionist Kevin Spencer carries a lot of gear in his 42-foot custom-made semitrailer, but a rabbit and a top hat aren’t in the inventory.

“We try to create a very different offering,” Spencer said from the road in Amarillo, Texas, on his way to Durango for this week’s show at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.

Spencer, who travels and performs with his wife, Cindy, is the star of the largest touring magic show in the country now that his friend David Copperfield has set up shop for the foreseeable future in Las Vegas.

“Spencers: Theatre of Illusion” is a two-hour show that delivers what it advertises.

“My tutor was Doug Henning, and he taught me that magic plus theater equals art. He wanted to turn back to the last century to a level where adults would enjoy it, and he worked hard to combine those elements,” Spencer said.“We tried to take the great elements of Broadway – scenery and music – and wrap it around illusions and give the high energy of a rock concert. They don’t just watch it, they experience it.”

The Spencers’ spectacle is not your run-of-the-mill magic show. Theirbig rig is chock-full of high-tech gear and equipment that requires about six or seven hours to set up in each city. At any given time, there are four or five people on stage, and Spencer taps the audience often for volunteer talent.

“I never want to bring up people who don’t want to be there, but there are usually a whole lot of people who want to come up on stage with us,” he said.

“My favorite part of every show is seeing who comes up from the audience, because you never know what they’re going to say or do, and nothing is set up ahead of time. People can say ‘I know that guy’ or ‘I know her – that’s my banker,’ or ‘that’s my kid’s teacher.’”

Among the many highlights of the latest show is the revival of a nearly 100-year-old trick that no one has pulled off since its originator, Harry Houdini. At each tour stop, the entourage stops at the local Home Depot and picks up a load of brand-new cinder blocks. Spencer stacks them on the front of the stage during the show and allows the audience to inspect the makeshift wall. Then he walks through it.

Spencer worked with magic-tech legend Jim Steinmeyer of Burbank, Calif., to develop the trick, and it took the two about a year to get it right. Steinmeyer previously worked with both Henning and Copperfield, but neither magician has attempted the Houdini walk-through-the-wall trick.

“Ours isn’t exactly like Houdini’s.It’s a bit more contemporary, but it’s an awesome piece of magic and theater with great historical context,” Spencer said.

Good magic, like any art,is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Conversely, we’ve probably all seen a few sub-par magicians over the years, and that’s an experience not to be forgotten. The Spencers are the real deal, with an emphasis on “real.”

“I do have the best job in the whole world,” Kevin Spencer said.“Doug (Henning) told me three things a long time ago and listening to him is why I think we’ve been so successful. He said take acting lessons, take dance lessons, and the third and most valuable is be yourself. Audiences recognize a phony, and if they don’t connect, you won’t last. So we’re doing something right.”

ted@durangoherald.com