NOW CLOSING JUNE 29
Musical theater turns magical – somewhat
«« ½ Flash, bang, wallop
Darren Romeo is many things over the course of his 90-minute magic and music show with the cumbersome title.
He’s a magician, as promised, and a singer, as promised. He’s also, as the title reminds us, the protégé of master Vegas magicians Siegfried and Roy. But Romeo is also a magic enthusiast eager to share his hobby, a musical theater aspirant who wants to move people with the sound of his voice and an old-school Vegas entertainer with a lust for flash over substance.
That’s a lot to pack into a small frame, but Romeo does it. He’s also a young man – I’d guess around 30 – so he has the need to make it all fresh while paying homage to all the magicians (and boy have there been a lot of them) to come before him. Being classic and new is a tricky maneuver and one Romeo is still working his way through in The Voice of Magic at the Post Street Theatre.
There’s still a lot of Vegas cheese in the show and a few Branson, Mo., clunkers left to smooth out. But Romeo has his charms, nowhere more apparent than when all the set pieces and flashing lights and overstrained songs are set aside and he goes one-on-one with a kid from the audience. On Tuesday night, that kid was 10-year-old Ashley, a charmer in her own right. She and Romeo sat at the edge of the stage, in front of the curtain, and Romeo did a simple but impressive (and slightly icky – in a good kid way) card trick. The number was meant to recall Romeo’s Long Island youth as a kids’ party entertainer and to show us how far he’s come. But Romeo would be wise to build a little more of that human element into his show.
Just as Romeo is attempting to be many things as a young, singing magician, so too is his show attempting to be spectacular and intimate, romantic and funny, impressive and silly. It doesn’t all work, but Romeo has the energy to keep it all together. He builds nice rapport with the audience, even if his fake giggle grates from time to time, and when he’s more natural and less “on” he’s quite appealing.
Romeo seemed to have a case of opening-night nerves on Tuesday and probably wasn’t as slick as on other nights when his mentors aren’t sitting in the orchestra (Siegfried and Roy, who is still recovering from a near-death encounter with one of their famous white tigers, received a standing ovation from the crowd). Some of the tricks and entrances were a little rough and revealed maybe more than the magician would have liked.
And he seemed to be suffering some vocal troubles that plagued certain numbers. But Romeo is enough of a pro that he pulled it all off with panache.
I can neither sing nor do magic tricks, let alone do both at the same time, so Romeo is well ahead of me in both departments. What he’s doing on stage is much harder than he makes it look, and some of it is beguiling. He serenades an audience member while singing Billy Joel’s sweetly sad “And So It Goes” while making a paper rose then, in a fiery flash, turning it into a real rose. He changes places in a flash several times with his leading lady, Kristy Michelsen, who also does some tricks and sings some songs of her own.
And then there’s the bit with the animal puppets on sticks and the furry little wormy things that dance and talk following “Talk to the Animals.” Cheesy. And so’s the “sawed in half” number, when it’s clear Romeo is wearing something bulky apparatus under his black T-shirt (the same Darren Romeo T-shirt available for sale in the lobby). “Gethsemane,” from Jesus Christ Superstar, is probably better when Romeo’s voice is stronger, though the Roman centurion contraptions worn by the dancers (Mariko Takahashi and Terrin Kelly) looks like a leftover from Siegfried and Roy’s show at the Mirage, and the finale of that number, when Romeo levitates, is awkwardly Christ-like.
He sings show tunes from Barnum, The Fantasticks, My Fair Lady and Kiss of the Spider Woman and even throws in a Melissa Etheridge tune and some originals. Somehow it all seems a little retro with the sparkly curtains and overly-flashy lights. When Romeo goes acoustic as it were, when it’s really just music and magic and a whole lot less flash, that will be something to see. If he really wants to take the show out of Vegas and the Vegas out of the show, there’s still some work to be done.
Siegfried and Roy present Darren Romeo: The Voice of Magic is at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post St., San Francisco through JUNE 29 (earlier than previously announced). Tickets are $45-$65. Call 415-771-6900 or visit www.poststreettheatre.com. Darren Romeo’s Web site is www.darrenromeo.com.