by Alix Cohen
When Steve Cohen’s Uncle Nat first showed his six year-old nephew a “pocket trick” (close-up magic), the boy was intrigued. Instead of being told HOW the feat was accomplished, he was gifted a copy of the archaic 19th Century volume Tricks with Cards. Young Steve would have to figure it out for himself. Captivation became determination. He did his first “act” at ten. Dogged study ran neck and neck with exposure to and then mentoring by professionals. At seventeen, he won the close-up category award from The International Brotherhood of Magicians. Steve Cohen had found his calling.
Often in demand elsewhere, The Millionaires’ Magician eventually established a weekend performance home at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel where he spent 17 years bewildering the public. When his venue went under renovation, Cohen moved to the historic Madison Room at Lotte New York Palace. Here he offers a maximum of 60 people (each performance) the intimacy of 19th century salon style presentation. The artist wears bespoke tails and stipulates his audience dress in cocktail attire. We all feel the sense of occasion.
There are no curtains, no tablecloths, no unusual props. When sightlines are obstructed, people stand and/or gather around a small table used as the show’s single surface. Cohen’s credo is not to let technique overshadow an effect. He’s immensely personable, wry, and quick on his feet. Humor comes easily. Adapting to wildly varied audiences is an integral part of the artist’s talent.
We start by writing our favorite drinks on file cards which are collected and passed in. Inimitable Card Tricks and The Illusive Silver Dollar (there’s a program) follow. The latter utilizes a battered porkpie hat to cover a Morgan dollar. Just when it seems like the effect is over, Cohen casually comments “You’d be more surprised if there was a brick underneath.” And there IS! “At this point, people often have questions. I won’t answer them,” he says with a twinkle. We are warmed up.
Next comes Think-A-Drink, a signature turn whose origin dates back to the 17th Century. Not only have I never seen another magician execute this, I’ve never heard of anyone else doing it. The cards we filled out are randomly shuffled, a few chosen by a volunteer. As each is read aloud, Cohen pours the desired liquid from the same teapot into a small glass. Collective eyebrows shoot up. Limoncello, a bourbon Manhattan, an Apple Martini, chocolate milk, and even, after ersatz hesitance, Acai Vitamin Water successively emerge. All are tested and declared the actual drink.
Marco Polo’s Discovery and Mental Map prime us for mentalism displayed in Cohen’s avowed favorite part of the show. We all write three amusing or curious things about ourselves on cards which are placed inside a closed box. A bell sits atop to act as alarm. Cohen then proceeds not only to reveal detailed contents but to convey random information about the audience. As he progresses, the magician speeds up. He paces back and forth, pointing, perception perhaps bombarded. It’s rather like watching a Fourth of July sparkler.
The only girl on an all female hockey team that played at The Prudential Center in New Jersey is called out. One man shared that he was afraid of dogs, another had returned from Timbuktu, the East Indian dialect of a third is identified, a fourth had declared himself “texturally sensitive to avocado and humus.” Cohen repeats what was written word for word. He often knows people’s names. Someone, he says, has a twin. A card is correctly quoted as “I’m so boring. I’m sorry. That’s all.” Someone’s secret unhealthy food, a pet named Nero, and the personal nickname “Meatball” are sensed. Really this section of the show is mind boggling.
We close with Total Coincidence, assorted two-deck card manipulation in which color and suit arrangement appear to bow to Cohen’s will.
The ninety minute evening is elegant, entertaining, and mystifying.
On October 6th at 9:00PM, Steve Cohen will perform his 5,000th show. This performance makes Chamber Magic one of Manhattan’s longest running solo performances. On this special night, guests are invited to stay for a post-show reception in the Gold Room at The Palace to celebrate. Cohen will be accepting an award from the President of The Society of American Magicians founded by Houdini and a proclamation from the Mayor’s office will be read. The show’s signature Think-A-Drink cocktail, available only on show nights in the bars at the Palace Hotel, will be served to all guests from silver teakettles. There will also be an extra-large “5,000” cake designed by Ron Ben-Israel.
(Steve Cohen is not related to Alix Cohen.)
Photos Courtesy of Chamber Magic
The Lotte New York Palace 455 Madison Avenue 50/51