By DOUG STRASSLER
The House of Ghostly Haunts at Canal Park Playhouse in Tribeca, is a throwback to the traditional spook shows of the mid-twentieth century. Audiences can see the star, Cardone the Magician, levitate tables, escape from a strait jacket, and even use an onstage guillotine.
But the most surprising element of Ghostly Haunts, which plays every Tuesday, may be Cardone's autobiography. If smoke and mirrors are a requisite part of magic, then Cardone, a lifelong magician, makes sure the mirrors reflect back on him.
This isn't a matter of ego but education. "When you see a magic show, what do you learn about the guy as a human being? Nothing!" says Cardone, adding that the only other form of performance akin to magic is professional wrestling. "Both sides know it's choreographed, but they pretend it's real. The idea is to infuse my real-life character into the show."
Of course, it would be sacrilege for a magician to divulge trade secrets, so instead of exposing the art of the thrill, he shares the thrill of the art. In one segment, for instance, Cardone reminisces about his grandfather, who influenced him with simple magic tricks, before he makes five razor blades disappear down his throat. He also explores his idol worship of Elvis Presley before summoning him in a séance. ("Elvis is a big part of my life. If I'm going to contact a ghost, what bigger ghost is there?") Cardone even takes audiences on a mini-field trip to the Playhouse lobby, where he shows off his dime museum. "It's like coming to my house," he says.
Kipp Osborne, Canal Park's producer, appreciates Cardone's approach: "While you could argue that everything he does is a fraud by definition, Cardone himself is the real deal," he says. "[He has] authenticity and passionate commitment to his work."
Cardone wants to spread the same passion for magic that claimed him when he received a magic kit at the age of five. Though he graduated from the competitive acting program at Carnegie Mellon University (where his classmates included Christian Borle and Patrick Wilson), acting itself bored him. After graduation, he came to New York and exclusively pursued magic as a profession, establishing a long and varied client list to whom he teaches magic tricks and freelancing through six different agents for work like his Ghostly Haunts gig.
But performance training clearly pays off in Cardone's ability to connect with the crowd. He knows how to read his audience, many members of whom he will pick to "volunteer" as assistants in the show. "In the beginning I try to break the ice, so they know that it's a spook show but they can laugh," he explains. "Every night has a different energy, and as soon as I can smell it, I'll focus on the vibe. I won't necessarily change the trick, but I've got to prescribe the right medicine."
Doug Strassler is a critic, reporter, and the editor of the NY IT Awards newsletter
Photo of Cardone the Magician by Jim Baldassare