David Copperfield doesn’t have anything to prove.
Millions of people watched him on TV as he made the Statue of Liberty disappear, walked through the Great Wall of China, escaped from Alcatraz, and vanished from an imploding building. He’s a household name in America, easily the most successful magician of all time.So why on earth is he coming here?
After all, here’s a man who is — according to his promotional packet, anyway — the seventh-highest-paid performer in the world. He’s attained the pinnacle of his profession and will probably be synonymous with Houdini when he finally fades from public view.
Copperfield performs 15 weeks a year in Las Vegas, owns the prestigious International Museum and Library of the Conjuring Arts, boasts a star on the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame, has been knighted in France, and can even visit his magically crafted likeness at Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London.
The magician’s last big show, Dreams and Nightmares, set new box-office records during its run on Broadway.
If logic holds, he should be selling out the biggest stadiums in the country.
Instead, he’s playing a relatively small-town venue with a scant 2,400-seat capacity. Something seems odd here.
The name of Copperfield’s current tour, An Intimate Evening of Grand Illusion, offers a clue. Perhaps he’s gotten tired of the star treatment, the cliched glitz-and-glamour life that attends the so-called “King of Magic,” and has decided to bring it down a notch or two with some cozy, family-styled shows.
Of course, there’s only one way to get the real story — go right to the source.
Thankfully, Copperfield’s new down-home sensibility also includes talking to local media outlets like Mountain Xpress. His publicist generously allowed me a 10-minute phone interview with the world-famous entertainer, in which we discussed the mysteries of his magic — as well as the conundrum of his booking system.
Steve Shanafelt: I found it a little strange that you’re coming to Asheville at all.
David Copperfield: You’ve got a theater there, don’t you?
Sure, but I’ve always thought of your show as being something for the bigger markets, like Raleigh or Charlotte.
Well, I like to perform everywhere, and I hear Asheville is very nice.
Are you trying to make a departure into smaller venues? Is it a smaller-scale show?
It’s not a small show at all; it’s huge!
There are a lot of references to your current show being ‘an intimate evening of magic.’
It’s intimate because the stories are very personal. I’m telling stories about myself … and I’m also telling other people’s stories. The magic is very spectacular, but it’s intimate from the standpoint of being emotionally intimate, which is very unique for this sort of magic show. I’m doing some sleight-of-hand magic with a black African scorpion, for instance.
According to the promotional materials, that’s a lethal arachnid and ‘a true challenge to will and dexterity.’
Pure sleight-of-hand — it’s like the ‘unplugged’ section of the show.
So is this show less challenging to present than the epic productions you’ve done before?
It’s always challenging. I really try to make the magic very moving, as well as just being amazing.
In your other shows, you [also] place great emphasis on telling stories. On this tour, you’ll perform an illusion called ‘The Lottery,’ which is based on the story of your grandfather’s unfulfilled dream of winning big. How important is the narrative element of your magic?
I have to make magic about more than just the how-did-he-do-it factor. I’m trying to do the same things with magic that are done with music and cinema … to involve the audience.
Arguably, you’re one of the world’s authorities on this: Why do people want to believe in magic?
People need to really fly in their own mind because there is so much garbage in the world. There’s a need to take the audience to another place.
You’ve done an awful lot in your career. Are you ever concerned about reaching a plateau with the audience and not being able to take them to that next level?
I’m never satisfied. That keeps me going.
As one of the top names in magic, do you ever worry about being considered one of the old guard, or becoming less relevant?
I’m 47 going on 20. I started really young, so people think that I’m older. I love what I do … and I’m still hungry.
This story was originally published in the January 14, 2004 issue of Mountain Xpress.