Today, I am a Magician's Assistant.
Having not seen any type of magic show since SUNY Geneseo hired a hypnotist to entertain my half-petrified/half-drunk freshman class on the first day of college, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I showed up at the Waldorf Towers and announced to Ionna, the beautifully-accented front desk attendant, that I would be Steve Cohen's assistant for the weekend.
I was immediately given a key card so I could instruct the elevator to take me to the much-coveted 35th floor. I had actually been in the Waldorf previously—I sold Broadway tickets at extremely inflated prices for a ticket broker company that masquerades as a helpful concierge service, but that's a whole other story. When I gingerly stepped out of the elevator and onto the plush carpeting of the 35th floor, I decided to "accidentally" walk down the wrong hallway to get the lay of the land, and I suddenly found myself eyeballing the Presidential Suite. Now, I assumed that "Presidential" was only used as a synonym for "Fancy and Expensive," but it seems that I just my country mouse way of thinking. The Presidential Suite has been occupied by every President since Herbert Hoover. Seriously. I later found a plaque in Steve's suite noting it to be the suite in which LBJ received Pope Paul IV. My very Catholic parents were blown away by that one.
Seemingly mirroring my anticipation, the doorbell to Steve's suite went "ding" but not "dong." Steve showed me around the suite, and though I couldn't have imagined it beforehand, I found upon seeing it that it was exactly as I would have imagined—beautiful classic (huge!) rooms with ornate formal draperies, chandeliers, old-fashioned furniture, and original fixtures. I promptly fell in love with the bathroom, with its tan and black checkered floor, which seemed to be transported there from Daddy Warbucks' mansion.
In retrospect, I realize that I should have been slightly nervous about going to a suite belonging to a unfamiliar man with a penchant for making things disappear, but I seemed to be full of small town trust at that particular moment. And I had nothing to worry about. I knew that having a show at the Waldorf qualified Steve as being a top-notch magician, and I had seen his website (www.ChamberMagic.com) with images of him being interviewed by David Letterman. When I saw a framed article featuring him in the Forbes "400 Richest People in the World" 2005 edition, however, my palms started to sweat. Was I klassy (yes, klassy) enough to assist "The Millionaires' Magician"?
Steve turned out to be a very thorough, lovely, and particular (in the best sense) boss. He has performed the show in his Waldorf living room to a capacity crowd of 50 over 250,000 times during the course of the last ten years, which makes a grand total of...um...well, a lot of people. My math teacher father would be so proud of me. Basically, when Steve said that the program should be placed on each fancy chair in a very specific manner, I trusted that he had a very good reason for saying so.
My duties were simple—I was to wear a black cocktail dress and heels; check in the audience members, who had each paid $75 to $100 a pop; answer questions; place some props in the correct places; and give a welcome speech. As a performer, I am not shy about speaking in front of a crowd, but for some reason, I found this speech a bit tricky to deliver. Steve asked me to practice for the empty room, which I self-consciously did, and he gave me line readings for the jokes. For non-theater folk, this means that he spoke the sentence with the exact inflection he wanted me to use. This behavior tends to be an insult in the theater world, but again, since it was his show and I fully trusted that he knew what he was doing, I didn't mind the suggestion, but I somehow couldn't land the jokes correctly. The accountant in me was not bothered by this failure, since I would be paid regardless of my stand-up skills, but the performer in me was frustrated that I couldn't do what seemed to come so easily to Steve. In the end, I decided that the jokes suited his turn-of-the-century demeanor and cadence, but they didn't go hand-in-hand with my modern-day speaking pattern. Which contains a slight Rochester, or Raaaach'ster, flat "a," of course.
Steve has performed for Stephen Sondheim, Martha Stewart, and The Queen of Morocco. Siegfried (minus Roy) even showed up to the last show of the evening, and I was pretty sure he was flirting with me...until I googled him and found out that he and Roy used to be a couple. Steve's act, which is a combination of slight-of-hand, mind reading, and jokes, went over like gangbusters, and the crowds, which dutifully followed the jacket and tie dress code, couldn't get enough. I was quite impressed with the whole experience, including myself for being a part of it.