Vitaly Beckman admits that every night he performs at The Westside Theatre in Manhattan, he’s breaking the law. But the police won’t likely be arresting the magician any time soon. The illusionist’s debut show, “Vitaly: An Evening of Wonders” opened Off-Broadway last week. I went to check it out, and later caught up with the magician over the phone.
For his showstopper act the 36 year-old asked audience members to hand over their driver’s licenses and proceeded to erase people’s photos by rubbing his their cards with his fingers. Then he rubbed two licenses together and one man’s face went onto another card so there were two faces. The audience gasped, then cheered. I was too chicken to hand mine over.
The trick was partly inspired, he later told The Jewish Week, by a scene in “Back To The Future” where Marty McFly’s family members disappear from pictures and Marty himself slowly disappears later in the film.
“It’s one of my favorite movies and that was a magical scene,” he said.
Born in Belarus and raised in Haifa, Israel, Beckman showed built a great rapport with the audience, cracking jokes throughout and managing to mock the more than 15 volunteers in a way that was funny, but not offensive. A man next to me cursed in shock when Beckman uncorked his most Harry-Potter like trick — he somehow had a brush paint an entire picture of a table… seemingly all by itself.
“We once had a couple run off the stage after that one,” Beckman said.
To be sure, this show is intimate. The theater seats only about 200 people. There were no pyrotechnics and nobody gets cut in half or flies through the air. The seats in the theater were not all that comfortable and the air conditioning wasn’t great. But I’d sit on a cactus in the dessert to see this guy. (Other patrons now report that the air conditioning is working well.)
This show is a wonderfully unique experience where you can’t help but be jealous of the fact that he knows how he’s doing the tricks and you don’t. Part of his charm is that he is so unassuming. He claims people tell him he sounds like Borat and looks like Seinfeld.
“If he (Seinfeld) reads this, I hope he comes,” Beckman said.
Depending on your taste, one weakness may be that there is not a unifying story about Beckman or any necessary connection solidifying the tricks. Personally I go to a play to see a story, but if I want to see illusions I go to a magician, so i didn’t feel like it was lacking cohesiveness.
There were some rustic things done to spice up the show. For example, to ensure that volunteers in the audience are not plants or ringers, he tossed two beach floating devices into the audience to be hit around and when the music stopped, whoever had the things would come up on stage.
He performed the trick that garnered him some fame on the show “Fool Us,” where he fooled Penn and Teller, who could not figure out how he was able to insert himself into a picture he was not in. In the show he also switches people in and out of different photos. “How does he do this?” One constantly wonders.
Beckman showed his sharp humor throughout. At one point, when he asked audience members to think of a celebrity who died, he said someone wrote David Hasselhoff, he quipped that the “Baywatch” actor had not passed on, only his career had.
What did his parents say when he told them he wanted to be a magician?
“Do engineering first,” he recalled. And so he did, at The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
He said a police officer loved his trick with driver’s licenses and he might try it out next on a bouncer.
When asked if he knew there were religious newspapers that remove pictures of all females due to stringent expectations of modesty, he said he didn’t. Asked if he could use his magic to remove them from a newspaper, he said he thought he could, though whether he would want to is another matter.
Beckman said he has a girlfriend.
Did he use magic to make sure she was smitten?
“Of course,” he said.
Beckman moved to Vancouver because his brother lives there and he always wanted to live in North America. He said he hopes the show can help him make his mark.
“I love Israel and some of my friends are great magicians there,” he said. “I felt that I wanted to make a leap and see if I could make it big.”
The show will officially open June 21 at the Westside Theatre (407 West 43rd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). The limited engagement is scheduled to run through September 30.