Though it opened with little hype at Off-Broadway's Lamb's Theatre -- Poof! -- Joseph Gabriel's Magic On Broadway didn't disappear. That show reached its 300th performance May 18 and didn't finish its run until mid-July.
Now Gabriel's back at the Lamb's in a show titled simply "Magic." He again prestidigitates with "free-flying exotic birds, including parrots, macaws, doves and cockatoos" and incorporates humor, music and audience participation.
The show came back to Off-Broadway Nov. 26 specifically for the holidays and was scheduled to end Jan. 3, but will now go into an open run at the Lamb's, with an official opening date set for Jan. 13. For tickets call (212) 239-6200.
Gabriel has been a featured act in the "Lido de Paris" at the Stardust in Vegas for two years and has starred for ten years in the Flamingo Hilton's City Lites. In 1983, Gabriel made his mark with a show at the Magic Castle in Hollywood, which led to his booking on Carson. He played a command performance for President Reagan at the White House in 1989. Gabriel was also chosen as magic consultant to work closely with Michael Crawford and Scott Faris (director) to oversee the illusion effects of MGM Hotel's $40 million EFX show.
Asked how the idea came about to bring such a Vegas-style show to Off Broadway, Gabriel told Playbill On-Line, "We knew we'd be different from everything else in the industry. One partner of mine has an office in New York, and two years ago he said, `wouldn't it be great to have a large-scale magic show in New York? That would be very novel for the Big Apple.' What's nice is the Lamb's Theatre is very intimate, and people can feel like I'm doing the show in their living room." Audience contact is important for Gabriel, who says, "In Las Vegas, you do your show, and it's marketed and pre-sold so heavily, you have groups from Taiwain and Japan booking six months in advance to come to a hotel, and their arms are twisted to go see whatever's playing in the club. But here, people actually choose what they want to see."
Gabriel also appreciates the range of audience members he can get in New York. Lots of kids are seeing the show, and I have a trick specifically to bring a five or six-year-old up onstage. Adults enjoy that, too, because it's a kid doing it. With Disney and Times Square becoming more family oriented, I think the show fits right in."
Continued Gabriel, "People come and suspend their disbelief. And it doesn't matter how much sophistication of wonderment is in a particular trick; the point is the audience is fooled and taken away from their day to-day reality, away from the norm." Gabriel added that the legit theatre gig is something of a wish come true for him: "I remember growing up in Jersey and watching [critics] Stewart Klein and Joel Siegel and Clive Barnes talking about shows, and then going to the theatre and seeing other people's faces on the cover of Playbill. Now those critics are saying lovely things about me, people are coming to my show and seeing my face on a Playbill!"
The Lamb's has been dark for awhile, due to the unexpected cancellation of The Dragon and The Pearl, a solo about Pearl S. Buck performed by Valerie Harper. The rest of the season is starting to take shape, including the current mounting of Bending Toward The Light -- A Jazz Nativity, a gospelly holiday show previously staged in NYC at Avery Fischer Hall and St. Bart's, and at Chicago's Orchestra Hall. The show opens (sans previews) Dec. 7 and runs to Dec. 30 on the mainstage.
Live on different nights (as various kings and shepards) are vibraphonist Lionel Hampton (who also played the Avery Fischer gig), Tito Puente, Dave Brubeck, Jon Faddis, dancer Jimmy Slyde (Black And Blue), Al Grey, Clark Terry, Candido [sic], Jackie Cain & Roy Kral, saxophonist Jon Gordon, Bob Kindred and The New York Voices.
Says General Manager and co-director Beth Jones, "The Nativity story [is] told through jazz. It's a seasonal show, but it isn't a `Christian' show. It's about bending towards the light -- love, goodness, honesty and joy. All these musicians are drawn to the manger by this bright light, which is what gives each of us our talent."
Mary is played by Gai s, while her spirit is danced by Alvin Ailey company member, Justina Santiago. Each night, Jazz Nativity will be narrated by a different celebrity (yet to be announced). Says Jones, "Our the host in the past was the late Charles Kurault. "Now we'll have different hosts during the course of the show -- people of political and theatrical weight."
Jones and her husband, Tad Jones, co-direct Jazz Nativity, which is produced by Anne Phillips and Bob Kindred.
As for the Lamb's after the new year, the The Lion's Company will offer a showcase of You Can't Take It With You in February 1998; then, opening March 15, is Nellie, based on the life of the first female newspaper reporter, Nellie Bly.
In 1998-99, director Jim Hullinger is already rooting for one show to come in: Joe DiPietro's play, Over The River And Through The Woods, recently staged at the Helen Hayes Theatre in Nyack, NY. That show previously received a reading at the Inge Festival, featuring Polly Holliday and Eileen Heckart. It was then mounted at the American Stage Company in 1996 and got a full staging at the Berkshire Theatre Festival this past summer. DiPietro is the author/lyricist of the Off-Broadway hit, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, which has run for over a year at the Westside Theatre.
-- By David Lefkowitz