Kevin James spent a good portion of his magic career as an award-winning magician and creator of some magic’s most innovative illusions performing as ... well ... Kevin James.
It was only after getting involved with “The Illusionists,” one of the most successful touring magic shows in history featuring a collection of the world’s premiere magicians, that he became “The Inventor.”
“We all kind of look like ‘The Avengers’ on the poster, so it made sense to sort of be a magic superhero,” James said of his moniker. “I don’t know if it was just a marketing tool to be neat, but I kind of like it.”
His fondness for his stage name in “The Illusionists” has grown on him, but his fondness for magic was immediate when a magician came to perform at his elementary school in his hometown, the “tiny little sleepy village” of Jonesville, Michigan.
“I know about three or four of my buddies that got hooked on that magic show, but I was the only one that was serious about it,” he said. “The bug bit me really, really hard and I knew there was nothing else I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
James (fun fact: a distant relative to the legendary P.T. Barnum) had an insatiable appetite for learning the art of magic, watching famed magician Doug Henning on TV, checking out library books and talking his parents into driving him to the closest magic shop, Abbott’s Magic, an hour away in Colon, Michigan. He attended every show and seminar he could and studied theater at Western Michigan University, more as a way to improve his magic act than as a fallback career.
While he got a thrill performing on stage as an up-and-coming magician after moving to Los Angeles, he got an equal amount of joy creating entirely new illusions himself. As his magic career took off and had him performing regularly in Las Vegas and in venues around the world, he was creating as much as he was performing. He was crafting not only entirely new illusions for his own show but for some of the all-time great magicians, including childhood hero Doug Henning, Penn & Teller and David Copperfield, whose popular “Floating Rose” illusion is one of the longest-standing illusions in his performances.
“That entire process is like the nine months of having a baby. You get very attached to it and it’s a part of you,” he said about creating illusions. “Finally, getting applause for something that started as a scribble or notion on a napkin is extremely satisfying.”
After multiple television appearances, including being a Season 2 semi-finalist on “America’s Got Talent,” brought him even wider recognition, James was tapped to join “The Illusionists” with six of the world’s top magicians six years ago for the show’s initial three-week run at the Sydney Opera House in Australia. Several national and international tours and a blockbuster run on Broadway later, “The Illusionists” is once again touring the country and stopping in Lexington to perform at the Lexington Opera House Tuesday and Wednesday night.
That sense of wonder that you have as a kid that got beaten out of you as you grow up. It’s the greatest job in the world to give that feeling back to adults that got lost along the way.
Kevin James, The Inventor
Joining James will be original cast member, comedic magician and James’ long-time magic colleague Jeff Hobson (The Trickster), mentalist Colin Cloud (The Deductionist), award-winning magician An Ha Lim (The Manipulator) and stunt performer Jonathan Goodwin (The Daredevil). He said each of the show’s performers will offer something entirely different but equally breathtaking.
James says the reason “The Illusionists” continues to be successful is because the often under-appreciated art of magic still provides an overwhelming sensation to anyone who encounters it done at the highest levels.
“It’s a very visceral art form and something about it is just basic to the human condition,” he said. “That sense of wonder that you have as a kid that got beaten out of you as you grow up. It’s the greatest job in the world to give that feeling back to adults that got lost along the way. I think we all need that, if just for a few hours, to feel that again.”
IF YOU GO
The Illusionists – Live From Broadway
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20 and 21
Where: Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St.
Tickets: $35 to $85