Stage Door Review
Sunday, September 20, 2020
by Greg Frewin
Greg Frewin Theatre, 5781 Ellen Avenue, Niagara Falls
May 2005-March 17, 2020;
July 30, 2020, booking to May 12, 2021
“He deals cards to find the answer
The sacred geometry of chance” (Sting, “Shape of My Heart”)
There are two things you should do when you visit Niagara Falls – see the magnificent Falls and see Greg Frewin’s fantastic magic show Wild Magic. Frewin, a Canadian, Hamilton-born and -bred, is currently ranked as “The International Grand Champion of Magic” after having won every major award offered within the magic community.
After presenting his own show in Las Vegas for two years, Frewin decided that Southern Ontario would be a better place to bring up his children than Las Vegas and moved back to Canada. Between excursion to residencies abroad, he has been presenting his show in his own theatre, a converted factory in downtown Niagara Falls since 2005. Like many people who live near a landmark that tourists flock to see, I, even though a fan of magic, have always put off seeing Wild Magic because it always seemed available to see.
In the present period of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, live theatre, especially indoor live theatre, cannot be taken for granted. On July 30, the Greg Frewin Theatre became the first theatre in Ontario to open to indoor audiences while rigorously following the provincial health and safety guidelines. This means that Frewin is performing his show that largely consists of big stage illusions in a theatre seating 700 for an audience of only 50 guests. This makes for an unbeatable experience that is both intimate and spectacular at once.
While waiting for the show to begin a film is shown of baby tigers. Fully grown tigers feature in the show and the film intends to demonstrate how much like the kittens of domestic cats tiger cubs are when young. People who object to the use of wild animals in stage shows should know that Frewin has hand-raised all the big cats he uses which were orphaned or otherwise abandoned. Frewin is on good terms with the SPCA and part of his Magic Shop in the building promotes and raises funds for the SPCA.
The show itself has a video prelude as do many shows focussed on a single magician in which we’re shown a barrage of clips of Frewin being greeted on various television talk shows. This is all quite unnecessary since the audience is already there and presumably doesn’t need to be convinced that Frewin is a famous magician.
Luckily, once the clips are over, Frewin appears and performs the classic illusion of the Torn and Restored Newspaper which most magic lovers will have seen a hundred times. Frewin’s version, however, has a twist in it in that a piece of the torn newspaper that seems to have fallen accidentally on the floor, does not appear in the restored newspaper, thus frustrating the knowledge of those who know how the trick is usually done. As if that were not enough, Frewin ends the trick with an unexpected flourish.
This first illusion establishes the approach Frewin uses for all the following illusions. Many illusions begin like ones that are familiar from other magic shows, but Frewin always gives them a twist that makes them even more eye-popping and more baffling than any versions you may have seen before.
To give just two examples, we all have seen the illusion of Sawing a Woman in Half in various forms. Frewin does not use a saw but begins by separating the body of his lovely female assistant into two with dividing panels. The twist is that Frewin and his two assistants are not finished with simply two dividing panels but begin inserting so many panels into the box that it becomes hard to count how many have been put in. Only when on a specially designed machine the various sections have been pulled apart do we realize that the woman have been divided into no fewer than nine equal sections! This makes the common illusion absolutely mind-boggling.
Frewin also performs the familiar illusion of Levitation. Here, however, he pays tribute to the location of his show and causes the sleeping woman to be slowly raised into the air by a series of small jets of water. As usual the magician demonstrates to the audience that there are no wires involved by passing a hoop over the levitated woman. Frewin uses no ordinary hoop, but one half of which is in flame and he passes is completely from the woman’s head and out over her feet so that several of the best known methods of staging this illusion have to be discounted. Besides this, of course, the combination of flame and water make for much more dramatic visual imagery than usual.
In a spirit of equality, Frewin’s two female assistants are not the only ones who are subjected to confinement and slicing. In an illusion of Frewin’s own invention known as The Scorpion, Frewin enacts a nightmare he he had in which he is trapped in a coffin-like box, hands and feet protruding, while a buzzsaw at the end of a curved metal are, much like the tail of a scorpion, presses into the coffin.
In another illusion known as the Squeeze Box, rather than being divided into nine pieces which are stretched out as separate boxes, Frewin has himself put in a box which, under the control of his two female assistants, proceeds to collapse until Frewin’s head is only a few inches from his feet.
Frewin also has himself stuffed into a box for the illusion known as Metamorphosis, which he performed more elegantly and quickly and any other magician I’ve seen.
The least successful aspect of the show are the dance interludes performed by Frewin’s two female assistants. Ordinarily there would be four of them, but at present the lacklustre choreography makes no impact, especially when danced with the minuscule amount of vigour the assistants lend it.
Given that the show is staged under health and safety protocols against the spread of Covid-19, many common features of magic shows have to be abandoned. Frewin cannot mingle among the audience and the only time he does appear (suddenly) in our midst he is wearing a face visor. Similarly, audience members are never called on stage to help with the illusions. Frewin has worked around this restriction in such clever ways that you don’t even miss the lack of traditional audience participation.
In one, Frewin chooses a member of the audience and tosses them a deck of cards. The catch is that it is an invisible deck of cards. The recipient has to follow Frewin’s instructions of taking the cards out of the package, shuffling them, choosing a card and telling Frewin what the card is. Frewin opens a new, visible pack of cards fans it and the named card is the only one face up.
Another clever way Frewin involves the audience in card magic is by have all audience members do a trick themselves. Four cards are already set on the table in from of every audience member. Under Frewin’s instruction we each tear the set of four cards in half and shuffle, discard and exchange the cards in various ways until we end with a seemingly miraculous discovery.
While Frewin professes a love for grand illusions, he gives the show variety by shifting between these illusion and much smaller scale magic. One of loveliest and most mystifying effects of the entire evening is a sequence in which Frewin repeatedly shuffles and deals out cards in time to Sting’s 1993 song “Shape of My Heart”. The lyrics of the song repeatedly mentions the four suits of cards and the names of the three face cards. Beautifully in time with the music, Frewin turns over every card mentioned from his reshuffled deck exactly when its name comes up in the lyrics. And, if that were not enough, Frewin effects at the very last minute an amazing transposition of cards we had had in view all through the song.
Like this card act, all of Frewin’s grand illusions are performed to pop music and often reflect the sentiments of the music in some way. This means that an audience member does not have to be an English speaker to enjoy the show. Frewin does speak during some of the small-scale illusions and one can say that he comes across as a Canadian performer in the best possible sense. He makes no attempt to build up a grand, mysterious or bizarre persona. Instead, he appears to be exactly what he is – an ordinary guy with an extraordinary talent, a lover of magic who through hard work has mastered his craft and simply enjoys sharing his ability with his audience.
No doubt hearing the enthusiastic applause of 700 patrons would be exhilarating. Nevertheless, Frewin seems just as exhilarated to hear the ecstatic applause of 50, many of whom have come to see the show for the second time or more. Frewin packs so make effects into only 75 minutes that one could easily see the show multiple times. Besides that, Frewin swaps out certain illusions with others so that the show is never exactly the same from one week to the next.
It is embarrassing to think that a magician of the highest level has been performing in Niagara Falls for 15 years and I have only now seen his show. Nevertheless, having finally seen the show, I would gladly see it again and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the pure theatricality that magic embodies.
For tickets, visit gregfrewintheatre.com.
Photos: Greg Frewin. © Greg Frewin Theatre.