Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Making Magic into Reality

Johnny Thonpson

The Great Tomsoni

Johnny Thompson is making his SCR debut. He began his interest in magic through the book, "The Expert at the Card Table" as a boy and has been working as a magician most of his life. He was hooked upon his first visit to Abbott’s Magic shop, “I saw every trick I read about in the magic catalog in that room. Illusions—everything was on display. And that really hooked me.” Thompson (The Great Tomsoni) has written, developed and provided material for magicians including Siegfried and Roy, Penn and Teller, Doug Henning, Lance Burton, David Blaine and The Amazing Jonathan. He was the magic consultant off-Broadway for Play Dead, for which he won a Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle award in the category of Illusion/Magic Design. In conjunction with Teller, he designed the magic effects for The Exorcist at Geffen Theatre. His television and film credits as a magic adviser/consulting include: “Fool Us,” “Hart to Hart,” “Fantasy Island,” “One Day at a Time,” “Beyond Westworld,” The Fantasticks, Bogus, Houdini – Believe and The Magic Box.
The Great Tomsoni, the Wizard of Warsaw, Tomsoni & Company—these are just a few of the stage names used by renowned magician Johnny Thompson. Throughout his long career, he’s worked and collaborated with Criss Angel, Lance Burton and David Blaine. His most recent collaboration—and perhaps his proudest—has been with Teller on the hit production of The Tempest.

Sometimes it takes more than one magician to realize a fantastical illusion. With Teller in the lead and Thompson as his magic designer, the two came together to craft and actualize the mesmerizing spells cast by Prospero in the show.

His job is to help figure out the logistics of an illusion with magicians. In essence—he helps to make their magic reality. Together they bounce ideas off each other and find solutions. With many years of magic under his belt as well as being one of the few lasting general practitioners—a magician versed in all forms of magic from close-up to stage magic—Thompson has served as the go to source for Penn and Teller.

Thompson first met the duo of Penn and Teller in 1976, when Thompson saw them perform at the Philadelphia Magic Convention. Over the years the three would continue to run into each other—with Thompson even helping them to secure another magician’s trick for a book the duo was writing. The trio officially cemented their working relationship of over 15 years when Penn and Teller turned to Thompson for help with their first show in Las Vegas at Bally’s Hotel & Casino.

“They come up with ideas and I find ways to bring them to fruition,” Thompson explains.

With their history of work it was only natural for Teller to bring on Thompson for this adaptation of The Tempest. Early on, the two met with Posner to discuss their goals for incorporating magic.

“From there Teller and I started working out the logistics of where we should put magic in the show; we didn’t want to just throw magic in for no reason. We wanted it to further the story exposition.”

Working with magic in the context of a play offered challenges of its own. Teller and Thompson had to devise the illusions with how the audience sees the action—sight lines and angles—in mind and that many of these illusions had never been done before. Luckily, the cast has been more than capable of taking on these challenges.

He credits actor Nate Dendy (Ariel) and Christopher Rose, the show’s magic technician and Ariel understudy, as being both fine magicians and fine actors. Thompson also found that Tom Nelis (Prospero) was a natural for the craft, “I could show him something and he would do it correctly…he was a quick study. We never had a problem. He was great.”

Nate Dendy (Ariel) Joby Earle (Ferdinand), Tom Nelis (Prospero) and Charlotte Graham (Miranda) in The Tempest. Photo: The Smith Center/Geri Kodey
The illusion Thompson is most proud of is the transformation of one character into another—a trick he came up with years ago and incorporated into the show. “It happens in the blink of an eye,” Thompson says with a grin.

The Tempest has been an experience Thompson finds incredibly rewarding.

“The magic is really very unique and fits the show perfectly. One of the best things I’ve done. I’ve had a lot of fun working on it.” The audience reactions from Las Vegas to Boston have been overwhelming and even more satisfying. “When we first opened at the Smith Center, I had people come up to me and say, ‘I never thought I’d enjoy Shakespeare, but this is magnificent.’ And those are the kind of things that make it worthwhile.”

Buy tickets now before they disappear.

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