Magic! The Play brings magic to the stage in comical tale

The UI Theatre Department presents Magic! The Play for the Spring season. The cast and crew speak about the challenges of bringing magic tricks to the stage.


Hayden Froehlich/ The Daily Iowan

Actress Andrea Warhurst, practices a magic trick at the dress rehearsal for Magic! The Play in the Theater Building on Wednesday, February 19, 2020. The cast of the play learned several illusions and card tricks for the play.

Pedro Barragan, Arts Reporter

The first Gallery production of the season, student-written Magic! The Play will be on the UI Theatre Building’s stage from today through Feb. 22 at 8 p.m., and Feb. 23 at 2 p.m.

Magic! The Play is a coming of age story about two high schoolers, Marissa and Billy, who find a passion for magic. Their friendship is challenged when they both compete for the World Magic Showcase.

Playwright Nicole Gabrione came up with the concept after watching the documentary *Make Believe* which centers around teen magicians.

“Something I’ve talked a lot about with Ben, the director, is that I’m really interested in this inherent duality of being a teenage magician,” Gabrione said. “Of having this power and this ability to do these fantastic things and simultaneously being 16 and not necessarily knowing what you’re doing with your life.” 

Anthony Davis performs as Billy at the dress rehearsal for Magic! The Play in the Theater Building on Wednesday, February 19, 2020. The cast members learned varies magic tricks and illusions to perform in character for the show. (Hayden Froehlich/The Daily Iowan.)

Magic! The Play had the insightful contribution of magician Colin Otto as a consultant for the play, an employee at the only magic shop in the state of Iowa. Gabrione and director Benjamin Sulzberger traveled to Marion, Iowa to consult him about how to implement magic into the play.

“He showed us a trick and we were like ‘That’s amazing,’ and he was like ‘Yeah that’s about eight years of me practicing by my bedroom by myself,’” Sulzberger said.

The actors were challenged with doing research on what magic tricks they would do. Andrea Warhurst, who plays outspoken Marissa, said the magicians were given time from winter break to master their characters’ skills.

“We started rehearsals before winter break,” Warhurst said. “ So, we had a week of table work. Then winter break came, and that was our time to learn whatever you could.” 

Co-lead Anthony Davis, who plays shy Billy, said the actors would look up tricks by themselves and see how they could improve them for the final product.

“What we did was look up videos on YouTube and discovered things that were interesting to us,” he said. “We brought stuff to work with that we liked… then we would show our tricks and see how we could make them better.” 

From left to right, Anthony Davis preforms as Billy, Nicholas Vogt performs as Ken and Andrea Warhurst performs as Marissa at the dress rehearsal for /Magic! The Play/ in the Theater Building on Wednesday, February 19, 2020. In the scene, the characters train to become professional magicians for a competition in Las Vegas. (Hayden Froehlich/The Daily Iowan.)

Although they are college students, the actors learned to shift their personalities to play high school students. But Andrea Warhurst spoke about how the characters were grounded in a way where they were capable of playing themselves to a certain extent.

“Marissa and I are not too far off. I think we’re lucky enough to be in characters that don’t feel different from our real selves,” she said. 

The play will also contain some 80s tunes to coincide with the show’s inspiration from John Hughes films and underdog sports films that feature training montages.

Even though the show will contain moments of awe where the actors will present some magical illusions, Gabrione feels that it’s the show’s humanism that makes it special.

“I try to keep things grounded in reality so we can have those moments of whimsy and fun,” Gabrione said. “ I try to keep it realistic in terms of how these people would actually speak but then we can throw in these fun moments where they’re thrown into scenarios that are outlandish and funny.”