One of the first things Darren Romeo wants you to know is that yes, his name is really Darren Romeo – Darren Robert Romeo, to be exact. And his first name is a tribute – with a slight spelling change — to his parents’ love of crooner Bobby Darin.
Growing up in East Meadow, N.Y., Romeo developed a love of magic at the same time he was doing musicals in school, but he never put the two together. His goal was to be a magician along the lines of one of his heroes, David Copperfield and Siegfried and Roy.
Sitting in a suite at the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton, the diminutive, handsome Romeo has the enthusiasm of a kid about to make a key purchase in an overstuffed magic shop. He’s in town to promote an upcoming gig. And it’s a big one, proof that the young magician from the ‘burbs has achieved his goal and then some. Look no further than the imposing, blond German man sitting next to Romeo: Siegfried Fischbacher
From doing children’s birthday parties in New York to playing conventions, Romeo paid his dues as a struggling musician. His father actually had the idea of adding music to the act. Romeo displayed his voice in musical theater, so why not add it to his act? And while he was at it, why not pay tribute to his namesake and sing a Bobby Darin song?
“I said, `Please stop. Come on.'” Romeo recalls. “I wasn’t at all sure about that ’50s music. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I tried to do something to `Mack the Knife,’ but I couldn’t make it work organically. Then I tried creating a trick set to `Dream Lover’ with my first assistant, who’s still my assistant, Kristy Michelsen, and it worked.
The trick remains a cornerstone of my act.”
San Francisco audiences can see the trick beginning tonight (June 3) at the Post Street Theatre when Siegfried & Roy Present Darren Romeo: The Voice of Magic begins performances.
Romeo is the first young magician that Siegfried and Roy have presented to the world. But even getting Siegfried to see young Romeo was quite a trick in itself.
An old friend of Siegfried and Roy’s, Irene Larsen, whose husband, Bill Larsen, co-founded the Magic Castle – sort of American magic’s unofficial home – in Los Angeles, suggested that Siegfried go to a club on the Las Vegas strip and see a promising magician. Oh, yes, and he sings.
” Irene dragged me, she DRAGGED me,” Siegfried says. “I said to her, `A singing magician? No way.’ But Irene had never asked me to see a magician before, so I went. And here on the stage, the music started, and out comes this little, short guy. He started singing, and within 10 minutes he had made a connection with the audience. I thought his voice was good, sometimes a little high.”
At this last recollection, Romeo’s eyes widen and he feigns shock. Did Siegfried just say his voice was too high? “You’re in quite a mood,” Romeo says with a laugh. But then he adds: “I was honored to have Siegfried come see my show.”
As one of the premiere magicians in the world, Siegfried says he’s used to having young magicians ask him for advice. “They want to hear something wise,” he says. “I never know what to say. They always want to know about tricks, about their show and all that. Darren he surprised me. The first thing he said to me was, `I’m writing a musical!’ That blew me away and caught me completely off guard. Darren is not like the others – he talked about entertaining, he talked about theater. I saw a little of myself in him, though I did not have such wonderful, supportive parents.”
This meeting was about nine years ago, and Romeo, who seems to be hovering around 30, is still writing the musical, which he started when he was doing a stint in the long-running off-Broadway musical phenomenon, The Fantasticks.
Some of the musical has found its way into his show, which also includes musical theater nuggets from The Phantom of the Opera, Barnum, Aspects of Love, Jesus Christ Superstar and, of course, The Fantasticks. He also throws in some originals (from the musical), a little Billy Joel and some Doctor Doolittle as a way of making light of the fact that Romeo isn’t nearly as fond of animals as his mentors, Siegfried and Roy. There will be no white tigers in Romeo’s show.
If there have been singing musicians before, they certainly haven’t made the kind of splash Romeo is making. Once he started combining his love of singing and music with his love of magic, it seemed a natural match.
“I know people hear `singing magician’ and want to run from it, not to it,” Romeo says. “But music is universal, and magic is really just another form of theatricality, especially if you use magic to tell a story. That’s what interests me.”
Siegfried adds: “For me, magic is an emotional experience, and that experience gets deeper with Darren’s singing. Theater is magic anyway, even without the technology and all that. Darren can captivate just with his talent, his voice and his whole approach. And believe, me, I tested him all the time.”
“Still does!” Romeo says.
“But that’s what Roy and I have done for 45 years, we test and challenge each other,” Siegfried continues. “That’s what our life is. You test the audience, me, the show every night. You’re always in charge of it.”
For Romeo, developing a magic show with Siegfried and Roy, is something he literally dreamed of. There’s a video floating around of Romeo at age 14 while attending magic summer camp. Siegfried has seen the tape and describes it: “There’s Darren with his big eyes and Long Island accent. They ask him why he wants to be a magician, and he says, `Siegfried and Roy have a quote in their show: Within all of us there is an illusive melody, which when heard and followed leads us to the fulfillment of our fondest dreams.'”
The kid has come a long way from watching his Uncle Vic make a handkerchief disappear to getting his first magic kit to playing Vegas to becoming the first protégé of Siegfried and Roy.
“I’m really lucky,” Romeo says. “Believe me. I know.”
Siegfried and Roy present Darren Romeo: The Voice of Magic is at the Post Street Theatre, 450 Post St., San Francisco through June 29. Tickets are $45-$65. Call 415-771-6900 or visit www.poststreettheatre.com. Darren Romeo’s Web site is www.darrenromeo.com.