The rules of testosterone-driven egos naturally demanded applause as he got off the bike.
Kerr had a tough challenge facing him during the second performance of "The Magic of Eli Kerr" as opening weekend was beginning to take off, but it's one he easily put behind him. The Magic Underground Theater at the Pioneer Center in Reno has welcomed the Carson City magician for a summer-long engagement, and it's a chance for the international performer to enjoy home life while sharing his talent with familiar faces.
Achieving that level of comfort worked for Kerr Saturday night. A humorous warm-up from funny magician Jacques Simard – whose French accent, cups-and-balls trick, audience interaction and ability to confound made for grins and giggles – built up the eager crowd for Kerr to recruit and tease volunteers. With a sleight of hand illusion and the help of a young woman, Kerr managed to raise a small table, a maneuver that made floating items in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion look tame.
Kerr performed solo for a short time, but there's no getting around it: No magician's show is complete without at least one pretty assistant. Kerr employs two such lovelies, both of whom worked quickly to set up his next trick and help with some difficult illusions. One of the assistants, Tezia, was put to the test with a balancing act in which she was lifted onto a thin spike, lying completely flat, and was suddenly dropped, seemingly impaled and lifeless as Kerr and an assistant spun her body around to let the audience see her from all angles. But then she miraculously resurrected and all was well.
The other assistant, Ashley, was almost literally swept off her feet a romantic change of sets featured a loveseat and unlit candle. Her gracefulness distracted the audience as Kerr walked across the stage, hands cupped holding a flame that seemed to ignite without a source, to light the candle. A brief dance with the magician led Ashley to the loveseat, where Kerr covered her with a cloth and slipped a rose into her hands before being hidden from sight. With a few waves, Kerr directed attention to Ashley's ascent into the air and he waved his hand over and under her. But it's not through until the descent began and suddenly Ashley was nowhere to be seen. Kerr pointed behind the audience and a spotlight revealed the young woman standing among the crowd.
While the audience at a magic show seeks to be dazzled, Kerr’s wit is the glue that holds the show together while he uses classic illusions and techniques to keep people entertained. Kerr challenged one unsuspecting gentleman to a challenge that involved being bound in a straitjacket. Kerr pretended not to understand why he could get out of the jacket but the other man couldn't. The magician suggested that the volunteer dislocate his shoulder and, as Kerr freed himself, the volunteer couldn’t escape even with the help of scissors and a screwdriver. Even his family didn't mind seeing him in such a predicament.
Part of Kerr's success comes from his integration of audiovisual elements, including a brief clip of Harry Houdini, to whom Kerr pays homage as one of his favorite magicians. Kerr’s audience gets a rare glimpse of actual footage of Houdini's daring stunts and finds out who he was as a person and magician.
Musically, Kerr's showcases a spirited mix of alternative and rock songs that keeps the audience’s feet tapping. ZZ Top's "La Grange" plays during a brief video with Kerr riding his motorcycle down Reno's strip at night. Savage Garden might have been pleased to hear one of their biggest hits, "I Want You," as an introduction to grab the audience's attention after intermission, although one might wonder how Nickelback's "If Everyone Cared" might be considered a romantic ballad during Ashley's levitation.
But why linger on such details when Kerr's use of other audiovisual elements turned out to add a bit of flair? Occasionally, an assistant would appear on stage with a digital camera to reveal Kerr's tricks close-up, including the supposed destruction and restoration of a $20 and $100 bill -- much to the relief of the currency holders.
The finale was satisfying for a show that takes the audience from witty, humorous tricks to elaborate illusions. The set-up appears to be an ancient crypt and two male assistants light torches and bring out a hexagonal object that, at first glance, looks like a model UFO. After spending the rest of the show in casual clothes, Kerr came out dressed in a long, black trench coat with a hint of Gothic inspiration, his hair unbound from the long, blond ponytail he'd worn all night. Tezia climbed into a rather tight compartment into which Kerr jammed six flaming poles. After spinning the box around for the audience to see, Kerr removed the spears and allowed a smiling Tezia and Ashley to emerge from the box.
The show moved at a steady pace and the audience never felt bored. Kerr, however, did have two major obstacles to overcome. Saturday produced a fairly small audience, not enough to fill even half the theater, but how can you expect an opening show to compete with the Reno Roller Derby happening at the plaza nearby? Second, Kerr had to fit his show to the size of the theater's stage itself. This works both for and against Kerr as some of his grander illusions likely are being scaled back, but it also helps him maintain a relationship with the audience, which loved being picked on and talked to as they watched.
If there was a minor gaffe that works against Kerr, it would be the use of one too many "What have you been drinking?" jokes, at least for a family show setting. Fortunately on the show's second night, there was only a handful of young kids in the crowd and such remarks likely flew over their heads.
Kerr and the crew experienced some nervousness but with another three months or so to work out some kinks and occasionally switch out some acts to keep it fresh, "The Magic of Eli Kerr" has the potential to be a popular summer show in the area – if you believe in magic.
"The Magic of Kerr" is now open at the Magic Underground Theater Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. until September. Admission is $19.95 for adults and $16.95 for kids age 4 to 12 with discounts available for groups, students, seniors and the military. Tickets are available at the Pioneer Center Box Office, online at www.elikerr.com or by calling 324-6007.