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Magic Time


New York Musical Theatre festival show finds humor in plight of small-time children's performer 


By Michael Shashoua / Jester editor-in-chief


“Just Like Magic,” a musical comedy in the New York Musical Theatre Festival that winds down this weekend, is carried by the warm persona of its star, “Christopher T. Magician” (presumably Christopher W. Barnes, who wrote the book and lyrics of the show).


Barnes takes the audience on an arc of a struggling children’s party magician, attired in loud, wide lapel purple suit, who can’t help but let inappropriate material slip into his performance, and let his fears and anxieties leak out into his act.


The show never quite arrives at the cataclysm one might expect from this plot set-up. Instead, it has more of a wry wit among its frequent nods to kiddie entertainment, where Barnes purposefully deploys bad puns and corny jokes to bring to life the losing persona of his lead character. He’s joined onstage by Ryan Lipnicky, playing keyboard accompaniment, and acting, without speaking, like he doesn’t want to be there and detests the magician he’s working with.


As far as deep convulsive laughter goes, that comes most often when the magician is playing against himself with different puppet characters on one hand, including a talking donut and a dodo bird. The donut’s number is a song warning children of the danger of strangers, delivered uproariously. Even better is the magician’s shtick with “Jojo the Dodo,” in which his self-hatred also leaks out into a battle with the puppet character at the end of his own arm.


So there are a few resonant moments like this, and Barnes does draw you in by making the lead magician character likeable and sympathetic despite his flaws. And the overall tone of the show is sunny, as the magician hero does rescue himself from his own potential self-sabotage. The inappropriate slip-ups previously mentioned could be sinking him since there may be a Nickelodeon staffer at the birthday party where he’s performing. It bears mentioning that Barnes also draws the audience in with a bit of participation, in effect casting the audience in the role of the children for whom he is performing.


“Just Like Magic,” seen October 13, had just three performances in the festival, and does not have more performances currently scheduled, but would be worth seeing if it returns. One does wonder though what the show would be like if Barnes heightened the stakes for his character, perhaps, or added more dire events to the plot. Still, it’s an earnest and successful light entertainment.




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