Rob Zabrecky holds a copy of "Harlen Tarbell's Course in Magic,… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)
Magician Rob Zabrecky has a bar of skeleton-shaped soap in his bathroom in the Valley, even though Halloween isn't on the horizon yet. The skeleton, like so much about Zabrecky, is a manifestation of his obsession with the macabre. It's an obsession he has cultivated for the last 12 years, eventually embodying it in the persona of his alter ego — a darkly comic character called Odd Man.
At Hollywood's Magic Castle, where Zabrecky is a member, he performs as Odd Man, but his shows are short and completely devoted to his theatrical brand of magic. Now, encouraged by his close friend and fellow magician Derek DelGaudio, Zabrecky is set to perform the second in what may become a regular series of one-man shows simply titled "An Evening With Rob Zabrecky." These new shows, at the Steve Allen Theater, allow Zabrecky to combine his many talents — acting, music, magic and dance — into one highly entertaining bundle with a distinct point of view.
"I've been to some evil, dark places in my life, and have come out of those by reinventing myself as this performer who does magic," says Zabrecky, 43, who struggled with substance abuse as the lead singer of the indie rock band Possum Dixon, which was signed to Interscope Records in the early '90s. "This show has a moral purpose — it's about seeing beauty in the darkness."
Zabrecky's art often involves opening a door on the mysterious and the bizarre and walking people through it. During his hour-long show, he'll perform 20 bits all aimed at reviving a sense of what he likes to call "childlike wonder" in those present. There will be much conjuring, as well as a harp, a ukulele, a tribute to the Velvet Underground and a very unique discussion with the moon, although Zabrecky won't give away much more than that.
"The success of magic is rooted in the element of surprise," says Zabrecky, sitting in a leather chair in his living room, wearing a striped black-and-white shirt and jeans. He is barefoot, and his face is lean and hollowed out, like a character in an Edward Gorey drawing.
For Zabrecky's first solo show, in early August, all 125 seats quickly sold out and the theater had to add 55 more to accommodate the overflow. The enthusiastic audience reaction is a testament to Zabrecky's reputation in L.A.'s small but active magic community, which remembers him fondly for one of his first projects with former Pixies drummer Dave Lovering, a magic trio called the Unholy Three.
Zabrecky's fans say his performances are transporting because he is so deeply involved with his character, which mixes the comic timing of Herman Munster with the awkward, tragic persona of the late Joy Division singer Ian Curtis.
"I grew up watching magic my whole life. When I saw Rob perform in the Unholy Three, I thought this is so different, it's so exciting," recalls Liberty Larsen, granddaughter of the Magic Castle's founders, who also performs in Zabrecky's show as part of a musical duo called the Goodnight Ladies. "His presentation is very hip and playful. It's inspiring for a lot of people."
On the strength of his fresh approach, Zabrecky has begun making a name for himself with television appearances and tours of Japan and elsewhere. He also hosts an ongoing series of invitation-only underground magic and variety shows called "The Brookledge Follies" at the home of Irene Larsen, Liberty's grandmother.
Among those who've been drawn to Zabrecky's act at Brookledge are Zach Shields and Ryan Gosling, who play together in a darkly melodic band called Dead Man's Bones. The pair liked Zabrecky so much that they incorporated him into their live act, as a sort of creative interlude between songs. Once during a show, Zabrecky tap-danced on a wooden table that was hooked up to microphones and looped through a digital delay pedal.
Shields was at Zabrecky's first solo show and vividly describes the experience, "It's like you're walking down a street and you see an old theater, and the chains on the door are broken. So you push the door open and there's this guy onstage and he's performing. Magic is happening, and you could be there or not, but he's doing it anyway. You just kind of stumble into this other universe, and that's Rob."