Illusionist continues to hone his craft | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Illusionist continues to hone his craft

Rick Chandler

Who knows why a child is drawn to magic? For Jonathan Neal Brown it started at the age of 9, and right away he knew he was hooked.

“I guess I was the geeky kid who ran across a magic book and just couldn’t put it down,” said Smith, who is now one of the greats in the magic craft. “Back then, it seems like 200 years ago, I remember seeing magicians on TV and just being fascinated. I was a bookish kid, hung out at the library a lot, so I decided to research it. I learned my first tricks just through books.”

Call him “The Illusionist,” a cutting edge magician who has proven throughout his career that showmanship is just as important as technical know-how. Most notably a two-time winner of the “Stage Magician of the Year” award and star – along with his wife Laine – of the CBS show “The World’s Greatest Magicians,” Brown has now taken the starring role in the ensemble magical review “TV’s Magic Stars” at the Horizon Casino and Resort.

The show, which also features Chris Mitchell (Comedy Central, “The West Wing”), Joel Ward and Morgan (“Fox Family’s Lance Burton’s Young Magician’s Showcase”) and Christopher Hart (“The Addams Family,” “Addams Family Values” and “Addams Family Reunion”), is an eclectic journey through the craft, looking at the world of magic through four distinctly unique perspectives.

Brown is the steadying force, the old hand and consummate showman who has a resume bullet that the youngsters can only look at and envy: Brown has made two appearances on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.”

“That was an amazing time, something I’ll never forget,” Brown said of his appearances in the 1980s. “On the first show, the other guests were Tina Turner and Bill Maher. My signature trick at the time was the linking rings illusion, and Johnny – who was an amateur magician himself – wanted to see that. But he also wanted to know if I had a fresh take on it, so he asked for an audition tape.

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“When he saw it he said ‘Yeah, that’s something we haven’t seen before.’ He was impressed, and that meant a lot to me.”

On Brown’s second appearance on “The Tonight Show,” the guest was Paul McCartney.

“I’ve been on a lot of TV shows, including Merv Griffin,” Brown said. “I’m doing my act on stage, and over to the side I hear Merv with his signature ‘Ooh, ahh.’ He is really like that, kind of wide-eyed, like a kid.”

Brown was raised on the East Coast – Boston and Providence, R.I. – attended the University of Rhode Island and moved to California in 1978.

“I was doing a summer tour of children’s theater, and decided to stay out West for awhile,” he said. “There were some great older comedians working in the Los Angeles area whom I wanted to see before they retired. Before long I put an act together and brought it to the Magic Castle in Hollywood, and they accepted me.

“Suddenly I found myself in a circle of people who lived and breathed the craft. Magic was enjoying a big revival then; Doug Henning, David Copperfield and Sigfreid and Roy were on a boom. It was the right time.”

Before long Brown took his act on the road, working clubs, theaters and cruise ships all over the world.

His signature illusion these days has to be the thumb-tying sword illusion, in which he appears to pass his thumbs – which are tied together tightly by a length of rope – through a samurai sword. That one took him about a year to perfect.

“You’re always searching for that something special,” Brown said. “As a performer you’re constantly examining yourself, asking if you’re giving the audience something new.”

Brown does 12 shows a week at the Horizon (two per evening, dark on Tuesdays, with a 3 p.m. matinee on Sunday), but says the challenge is always there.

“People ask how could I work so many shows, but I would rather work that way,” Brown said. “To me it’s just honing my craft. I never get bored because the audience is always changing, and there’s a real challenge in that.”

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