Dinner was at the Parker & Quinn restaurant at The Refinery Hotel on West 39th Street. This was a revelation for my wife and I, as we were thrilled to find an eatery in midtown that had excellent food, great old-world ambiance, reasonable prices, and a lack of the tourist crush; the patrons seemed to be mostly business locals and some hotel guests. We both agreed that this restaurant would serve us well in the future when we found ourselves in the area to see a show or go shopping.
What immediately struck me about Parker & Quinn’s decor were the interesting booths. The larger ones were deeply recessed and set up high, almost at eye level. They were made even more private by having the tall wooden backs of smaller booths right against them, so that there was only a small one-person-width opening in which to enter them. They could seat probably up to nine or ten people comfortably. When eyeing the larger booth in the back corner, I thought that it would make a great place for magicians to “session” over lunch (lunchtime sessioning being a long-time tradition where magicians meet at a restaurant, and commandeer a booth or table for several hours as they trade tricks, tips and stories. Usually it is open for newcomers to drop by, if they are in the know).
“Sneak into a magic shop late at night
Discover its secret history
Witness an unbelievable show”
It does feel like one is sneaking into the magic shop because, as billed, this show occurs at 8pm, and Levine is the only soul in the dimly, yet elegantly lighted space. I could tell the rest of the fourteen-member audience seem to feel the same way, as they milled around before the show began, carefull not to touch or disturb anything. Adding to the sneaking-in feeling is the fact that Tannens is located on the sixth floor of a nondescript, unmarked (except for the number) building wedged between two giant retail stores. There is no sign on the street, no indication that the magic store is even there until you find your way to the sixth floor (careful, one of the three elevators is uncomfortably small, fitting only two people. Mrs. Smallini remarked that it was the smallest elevator she had ever been in, so that tells you something). After winding your way past two travel agencies, the door to Tannens is in the back, where you enter its secret chamber.
Noah Levine is there to greet you, and to be your host, entertainer, and really, your amazing, if slightly odd (after all, who hangs out alone in a magic shop after dark?) new friend that you’ve met for the evening. And then, after an hour so, poof! He’s gone. And you’re home wondering if the evening actually ever happened, especially given that last crafty, purely imaginative image Levine leaves you with at the end of the show.
Is performing a magic show in a magic shop kind of like playing a gig in an instrument shop? There are many ways in which this concept could have gone sideways and wrong, including performing it during the day (meh), or choosing the wrong magic shop (actually, there aren’t but a few magic shops left, but they tend to be cluttered, crowded affairs). Even slick and clean Fantasma on 33rd street doesn’t hold the same appeal for an after hours show as classic, history-filled Tannens.
But mainly, the real difference-maker is the performer. A magician who was too old might seem a little sad and pathetic as he lumbered through a boring magic history lesson peppered with some wheezy classics. Equally wrong would be some brash, young turk dressed in black who might turn it into a night-clubby sort of experience with loud music and maybe a hot assistant.
Noah Levine was the key to making this concept work. It’s no small feat to entertain fourteen people in close quarters for an hour, first standing among them and then sitting around a table together. You begin to feel like you're getting to know Noah. You're hanging out with him for the evening as he shows you some really amazing stuff at this place that maybe we’re not supposed to be in. The performance was well paced, with never a prolonged bit or monologue, while the writing and routines were clever and fun. Levine had his audience thoroughly charmed and mystified.
A mention must also be made of other well-executed theatrical elements that helped make the show a success, including the lighting (subtle and intimate), and sound, or lack thereof, a fact Levine himself points out as being a great and rare opportunity to perform some magic which needs pure silence. Come to think of it, silence, along with total darkness (easily obtained in Tannens’s front room) are the makings for an effective seance. Perhaps those also happen on there on occasion (for pure fun, of course!).
Did I mention that the magic was excellent as well? Two highlights for me were the Egg Bag routine (I never thought it could be performed so close!), and the coin and tuning fork trick by David Roth. Another cool moment was the finale of a cheap, classic plastic magic trick (Dice Bomb, many of which I used to sell to tourists when I was a magic demonstrator for a while). The finale of Dice Bomb was almost a mini version of the Derek DelGaudio letter illusion currently in his show on the other side of town. It was Mrs. Smallini who pointed out this connection. I liked the contrast of the mind-blowing revelation occurring almost as a footnote at the end of a simple (yet also deceptive) toy magic trick.