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Scott Wells
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From Scott Wells, your Peripatetic Prestidigitator

It’s Halloween and that means it’s time for the ghosts and goblins to come out. But in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that means it’s time for families to come out to see David Seebach’s annual “Illusions in the Night” spook-tacular Halloween show that changes every year. For the 15th consecutive year David is bringing his magic to the Modjeska stage in the historic Mitchell Street district. The 80 year old theatre has gone through better years, but it still functions as a legitimate theatre showing musicals and plays. In fact, after David’s run, Beauty and the Beast will begin there.

On opening night Friday October 21st, the atmosphere was charged with excitement. In the foyer, patrons could buy Halloween and magic mementoes from plastic Dracula teeth, to buttons and whirly lights to promo photos and posters of David Seebach. Everything on the tables was reasonably priced from 25¢ to $3.00. Talk about family-friendly prices! Of course they also sold the more expensive “Illusions in the Night” shirts. People were seated downstairs in the theatre seats with some in cabaret seating around tables down front. On each table top were free snack mix and a menu of assorted candies and soft drinks available. Friendly costumed waitresses served your every need. Of course the theatre was adorned with appropriate spooky characters on the walls and in the box seats. Of course the theatre was so old, I wasn’t sure what cobwebs were placed there for effect. The stage was set with a cemetery scene complete with comical tombstones and completing the mood was appropriate scary sounds and music.

As the lights dimmed, lighted eyes began to appear in the balcony and from under the orchestra pit. Apparitions appeared to be floating in the air and across the stage and the walls. Suddenly a couple of pall bearers brought in a coffin standing on end as smoke rolled across the stage. After showing it completely empty they closed the doors and suddenly, a sullen David Seebach stepped forth. He slowly moved to the front of the stage as one of his female assistants joined him and handed him a rose. Another coffin was rolled onstage as she was placed inside and immediately set afire. As the contents of the coffin blazed, soon the sides fell to display the charred remains of a skeleton. David tossed the rose onto the flames as it continued burning. The curtains closed and David stepped to the apron, stared at the audience then finally said, “What? You were expecting a happy ending?” So began our journey into a fun-filled, magical evening.

David effortlessly alternated between illusions and talking bits as he endeared himself to his audience. I can’t say that he is overly energetic, but he is very much the entertainer in the old school ways of Harry Blackstone, Sr. or Jr. (depending upon how old you are and which you remember better.)

Talking about Harry Houdini and his ties to Wisconsin, he performed the obligatory substitution truck illusion with great aplomb. His handling of Duke’s Dye Version was one of my favorites of the show. He updated and customized it with the appropriate Halloween theme and his professional and respectful handling of the four feisty children on stage was a lesson in audience management.

His Mis-Made Lady was not particularly original and there were minor problems perhaps due to the opening night jitters or maybe it was due to the ghosts that haunt the theatre? Let me say here that all concerned; the stage hands, the assistants and the technical crew all worked in unity that made for a nice, tight show with “spot-on” lighting and excellent sound throughout the whole evening. It goes to show what proper rehearsal and professional staging can do. I am always consternated by the problems with the typical magic convention show where 90% of them seem to be plagued with technical glitches of some type or another. Not here and not tonight. Again, it was a well-done show.

David brought down a young adult who was celebrating a birthday to be the brunt of a comical guillotine routine. He finished the first half with the harrowing Buzz Saw illusion performed again the traditional way of Harry Blackstone. But his “blow-off” at the end was quite clever as the EMT’s broke through the curtain and rolled off two gurneys to the ambulance…one with her top and the other with her legs.

Following the intermission, David turned a girl in a cage into a dog who then was again transformed into a full size, real live Bengal tiger. A glass lined box was wheeled on and a foulard covered it for only a moment when the first assistant apparently was returned. Apparently she was not turned into the dog or the tiger which then begged the question…was the dog supposed to have been turned into the tiger and the girl just supposed to have disappeared? Sometimes I am confused as to the purpose of some illusions…for example why a person (usually a woman) is sliced and diced then repaired. But these have been done for over a century so who am I to question tradition? But enough of my aside comments.

David promised more spirits to appear in the second half and certainly there were some. It started with a small ghost who lived in a Chinese Bottle. It seemed that when a volunteer place a piece of rope in the bottle, the spirit tenaciously clung to the oversized twine. His “Things That Go Bump in the Night” had more than a little satanic overtones replete with stage flat with a gargantuan ghoulish gargoyle with lighted eyes. He then had a young man distribute pieces of paper into the audience with the request for people to write a wish on them. As they were being handled, he told a scary story of The Monkey’s Paw with details that brought chills up everyone’s spine and finished with a moment that had most everyone jumping out of their seats. Three adults came to the stage who selected and read wishes as he wrote them on a Mental Epic board. His handling of the last question was extremely clever and not a method that I will tip here. But it completely solved the problem of writing the last prediction.

Curtains were raised and his assistant returned (her body apparently now completely back together in one piece) as she was laid on a table top and a foulard covered her form. She slowly rose into the air as the Asrah table was rolled off. She continued to rise higher and higher until, with a blaze of fire and a puff of smoke, the foulard fell to the floor and she was gone.

David gave us more promises of spooks and said he was going to have to resort to the Ouija board. A volunteer came on stage and they asked the Ouija board if there were spooks in the theatre that night. The planchette pointed to “yes.” Both David and the volunteer grasped the foulard covering the table as the table itself began to gyrate than float into the air, dumping the Ouija board and planchette on the floor. Suddenly the theatre went dark. I mean completely black with only the Exit signs illuminated. Suddenly the spooks were set free. In classical Bill Neff and Dr Silkini style, the apparitions began to appear as they floated about the stage and out over our heads from the balcony accompanied by appropriately spooky sounds. Finally there were flashes of fire and smoke and sparks that flashed from the stage that brought gasps and oohs.

As the lights came up, David Seebach returned to the stage with a pin light on his frame and he thanked us for attending. He also gave homage to the spirits of those who had trodden the Modjeska stage. As he spoke he performed the Snowstorm in China. As he neared the conclusion of the routine and he talked about all the actors’ spirits of the past, the white papers took on a new meaning of ghosts rather than snow flakes. The pin light narrowed on David as he again thanked us and faded to black.

A very good show and well scripted. I understand that David changes the show each year though some things remain as staples. I heartily recommend that if you are in the Milwaukee area around Halloween to be sure to enjoy the Illusions in the Night show. Of course it’s always good to patronize the arts and live magic performances. David Seebach is one of those magicians who is working all the time and in lots of venues both publicly and privately but takes little time to jump in the celebrity spotlight as “cover boy de jour” of the magic rags. He is a worker who is appreciated and well known among the people…the ones who pay for his show and his success.

As an example of his local celebrity status, the next day I was in a book store in Milwaukee telling the clerk about a magic show he should see. Without me mentioning his name, he mentioned David Seebach by name and knew it must have been him as he had seen him at local festivals and other venues over the years. It must be nice to be appreciated as a prophet in your own land. Certainly David Seebach is.
"A magician who isn't working is only fooling himself." - Scott Wells, M.I.M.C. with Gold Star

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