Vitaly Beckman in ‘Vitaly: A Evening of Wonders” (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)
Do you ever wish you could just disappear? Be careful who you’re talking to. If it’s Vitaly Beckman, he might make it happen. The illusionist, whose one-man show Vitaly, opened last week at the Westside Theatre/Upstairs, will not cram you into a crate, wave a wand, and transport you into another dimension. But he will take your driver’s license and smudge you from existence by removing your image. Better yet, he’ll replace it with a photo of another audience member and then imprint both of you onto the same I.D.
The “evening of wonders” has less flourish and theatricality than the Broadway mega-hit Harry Potter and the Cursed Child playing just a block away, but Beckman’s goofy, self-proclaimed Seinfeld-like charm quickly wins over the audience with a range of tricks that he mostly pulls off without a hitch.
Born in Russia and now based in Vancouver (with the humble, affable nature of our northern neighbors), Beckman discovered magic at the age of 14 and has worked tirelessly to perfect his craft. Many of the slights of hand are riffs on the same thing: making an image disappear and/or transforming it into something else. The beauty is in its intimacy, often shared with the audience through a live video feed and the presence of an onstage audience member to verify that he has, for example, transformed an image to appear as if he’s in his living room with the Queen of England.
In one trick, he invites three participants onstage and blindfolds himself, then asking them to choose a beverage: tea, wine or water. Beckman navigates the small table to pour the drinks and serves them to the appropriate individual. In the performance I saw, he was off by one, so the stunt wasn’t a knockout, but still a firm hit. Another trick involved several audience members scattered throughout the theater, a torn corner of a playing card, and some other transferences, but the focus and purpose of its outcome was so convoluted that I lost interest, only to be pulled back into the show by the man sitting behind me exclaiming, “Oh my God!” — so I assume it worked.
Vitaly’s most magical moments involve Beckman’s love of art, in which he draws figures on a sketchpad (or miraculously has the magic marker do the work for him while he watches). Before our eyes, the thick, black lines move into something entirely new, and with a slow wave of his hand over the image, they transform into color, then three-dimensional, and eventually fly off the page.
Beckman successful stumped Penn & Teller on their show Fool Us and his New York City engagement proves that the audiences still crave and appreciate the art of magic.
407 West 43rd Street
Through September 30
Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. He can make an entire pizza disappear by himself.