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PERFORMANCE REVIEW

A bit too carried away with his own magic

David Copperfield still creates large-scale illusion with astonishing results. But the focus on his celebrity distracts.

February 05, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

Whether you are a magic buff or not, you have to hand it to David Copperfield. In a career that has spanned more than three decades, Copperfield has become as much an icon as an entertainer, one whose name has become synonymous with the practice of magic. Indeed, one of the most magical things about him is the staggering schedule he maintains -- as many as 500 shows in a year.

You would think that Copperfield's celebrity is a given, just one of those well-established facts that everyone, including the man himself, takes for granted. In "David Copperfield: Intimate Evening of Grand Illusion," Copperfield takes peculiar pains, however, to point out exactly how famous he is, and overstates his case.

Copperfield's stage show, which just wrapped up a weekend run at the Kodak Theatre as part of a wider tour, isn't the problem. Indeed, the lavish illusions for which Copperfield has become famous are on abundant display, and in his frequent interactions with the audience, Copperfield is a paragon of downplayed affability. It's the supplemental video segments, though dazzlingly produced, that take a dismayingly narcissistic turn.

The evening opens with a cough syrup commercial -- a jarring note for those who thought that the theater had remained largely immune to product placement ads. That the spot stars Copperfield's mother has a certain "Oh, isn't that cute" appeal. But a subsequent video segment exhaustively recapitulates media references to Copperfield, including snippets from "Friends" and jokes by Conan O'Brien. It's an overwhelming aggregate that seems directly downloaded from a very conscientious clipping service.

Still later, Copperfield interrupts the magical action for yet another video, this time detailing his specific accomplishments, including Guinness World Records and that he is the only living magician to have his image on postage stamps. Part of that video is devoted, appropriately, to Copperfield's prior stage feats, with stunning footage of a spectacularly vanishing Statue of Liberty. One only wishes he had confined his retrospective to his stagecraft and given his resume a rest.

Copperfield is credited as the show's writer-director, so he takes the rap for any tonal blunders. (A pun could be made here about "misdirection," but we'll let that pass.) Fortunately, the smugness is notably absent in the live show, in which a genial, easygoing Copperfield plays off his audience with formidable wit. And when it comes to large-scale illusions, he remains a master of the craft.

The crowning effect of "Grand Illusion" starts with Copperfield's account of his troubled relationship with his late grandfather, a lottery buff who disowned his grandson for pursuing a stage career. The segment, which involves audience members giving random lottery numbers that are "magically" reproduced by Copperfield, concludes when a full-scale vintage Lincoln car materializes on stage, apparently out of thin air.

It's an astonishing effect, but it is also a touching tribute that shows a modest, underplayed Copperfield at his most candid. Now, if only this rightfully famous practitioner could rest easy about his own celebrity, which is unlikely to vanish any time soon.

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