Jeff McBride and Eugene Burger

Magic - the Secret Art
Princess Pavilion, Falmouth
Friday March 31st 2006
Reviewed by Nick Ralls

The people of Falmouth were in for a real theatrical treat when two of America’s great stars of magic came to the Cornish town. The combined charismatic talents of Jeff McBride and Eugene Burger in a truly remarkable magic and mystery show proves a theatrical experience that sticks in the mind like glue. The locals may not have heard of the formidable duo – although they have now - but that was not true for magicians who travelled far and wide, some journeying for more than seven hours, to see two amazing magic heroes doing what they do best.

The show staged by Kernow Magic was on the Friday night before a three day master class from McBride and Burger for magicians and was a rare opportunity for British folk to get a taste of how good magical entertainment can really be in the theatre. For the magic fraternity Jeff and Eugene need no introduction. They are magicians’ magicians who inspire, innovate and generously pass on their enthusiasm for the art of magic.

For the general public they are awesome and mesmerising entertainers whose warmth and stage presence offers something that is truly unique. The McBride theatrical experience fuses mask, myth, drama and illusion and reflects his lifelong study of magic’s multi cultural roots.

And the magic is to be shared….

From the moment the audience take their seats in the theatre, Jeff and Eugene generously make themselves available to personally greet them. It does not get more intimate – and more special - than that.

Bearded Eugene is everyone’s favourite uncle, with his distinct and compelling voice, as he thanks you for coming to the show and performs close up including the rising matchbox, a trick which is one of his own classics. But most of all, he is the friendly guy who brings people together…

Jeff, attired in black hat and dark cloak, makes friends with his audience too demonstrating from the word go that he is one of the world’s greatest magical showmen. He is a warm and affable host… and makes everyone feel that extra bit special and very welcome. That is real magic in itself before any tricks are demonstrated...

The show itself is jam packed with signature classics that have earned both these larger than life magical characters respect from magicians across the world and audiences alike, mainly in America, who have been lucky enough to witness their theatrical masterpieces. From Jeff we have the mime and mask mystical routines that have made him so different from the usual run of Las Vegas magicians and keeps him very much at the head of the pack.

Jeff McBride proves he can hold the audience breathless with simple but very strong visual magic. Waving his oriental hand fan he suspends his butterflies in space; from the smoke comes an incredible mask changing piece of theatre; and there is the charming spectacle when bowls magically fill with raindrops. Add to this his riveting card manipulation and beautiful sleight of light display complete with dancing light cane, and you know that you are experiencing classic McBride at its very best. He remains as athletic as he is original and the mystical overtones of his act with deep meaning just underneath the surface of alluring illusion seem somewhat appropriate for Cornwall with its own mystical legacy.

Jeff’s magic with mime, dance and martial arts, produces a show dense in drama and mystery. His costumes match the majesty of his choreography and the clever use of music sets the atmosphere for a great presentation. Here is a man who has studied the magician’s art from the early influences of the shaman to the more modern show time conjurers like Houdini. He is simply great and unique…

The audience also loves Eugene for his engaging, kind and very powerful stage personality which turns often simple magic into very strong theatrical effects. Like McBride, Eugene is a performer who loves what he is doing and radiates that love… and his audience capture this enthusiasm with ease. The great communicator and raconteur, Eugene opens with his classic Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva presentation involving the burnt and restored thread representing the Universe.

Later he captivates his audience with his superb rendition of the spirit slates – complete with comic messages adding theatrical surprise to the overall astonishment of a truly great individual routine. It is an understatement to say that nobody can capture attention like Eugene. He has you glued to your seat as the show is stuck in your mind.

Particularly memorable is his production from torn tissue paper of a Santa hat for himself and a beautiful bonnet for his female spectator. The rapport he has with his volunteer is lovely, confident and endearing. Eugene makes friends with people… and people make friends with him.

He also brings his years of experience in absorbing close up to the stage when he conjures up a winning poker hand for a non playing female volunteer over her poker playing husband. Eugene does not miss a theatrical opportunity. Suddenly cards become immensely important in people’s lives – and so does the trick! Volunteers leave the stage feeling ten feet tall because both Eugene and Jeff make people feel good about themselves. It is a feel good show and everyone ends up feeling good including, no doubt, the performers themselves who surely lap up the rapturous applause.

And nobody could feel better than the young lad called Harry who joins Jeff for an entertaining coin bucket routine and gleans with pride as he is ritualistically presented a magician’s wand that has been handed down from shaman to magician … to Harry.

Audience members are involved in the show from start to finish and Jeff spends a significant amount of his time in performance wandering around the auditorium to ensure everyone shares in the magic. No one will dose off in this show… or feel left out. And sharing in the magic is what this show is all about… Jeff and Eugene produce the gift of themselves to an appreciative audience… and the audience simply delight in receiving it.

After the show the duo are there to sign autographs and chat to audience members completing a truly magical experience for all… The great sadness for the member of the audience is walking out of the theatre door at the end of the evening – who wouldn’t want to stay in Jeff and Eugene’s magical world a little longer?

© Nick Ralls, April 2006