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Thursday, July 24, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Colossal Copperfield -- Magic Superstar Throws Extravaganza As Big As Keyarena

Seattle Times Theater Critic

------------------ Magic show preview ------------------

David Copperfield's "Dreams and Nightmares," 7:30 p.m. Sunday, KeyArena; $20-$39.50, 206-292-ARTS.

Master magician David Copperfield can seemingly conjure snow out of thin air. He strides through the sharp, whirring blades of a giant fan unscathed. Sliced in half by a laser beam, he emerges intact. And, for his next trick, he wins the love of supermodel Claudia Schiffer.

Tall, dark and blow-dried, Copperfield visits Seattle this weekend with his latest magic revue, "Dreams and Nightmares." The show plays KeyArena on Sunday.

Sound like a huge venue for just one guy with a few tricks up his sleeve? Hey, Copperfield is clearly not your kid's-birthday-party kind of magician, your pull-the-rabbit-from-the-top-hat gentleman conjurer, or your Penn and Teller-esque, sleight-of-hand wise guy.

Blending Las Vegas glitz with soft-core erotica and New Age uplift, Copperfield is more like the Neil Diamond of magic - a Caesar's Palace superstar adored by millions.

Yet even if his style makes your skin crawl, the man aces elaborate stunts. Some cool ones: 1) walking through the Great Wall of China; 2) making the Statue of Liberty vanish; 3) dangling in a straitjacket from a seven-story building, over a bed of flaming spikes; 4) flying, minus wings or wires.

All that on national TV, without mussing up his awesome hair.

Try to get Copperfield to expound on his craft in an interview, though, and the diffident New Jersey native reveals little.

How might stage magic evolve in the 21st century? "I think it will become more interactive and we'll get back to the basics." Case closed.

Why isn't his "museum" of 80,000 pieces of magic memorabilia and historical artifacts accessible to the public? "It's very difficult. We take some pieces on tour, but I use it mostly for research and development." End of discussion.

Does he worry technology may overwhelm or cheapen the power of stage illusion? "It does, and then we have to pull back on it."

How about the images of erotic voyeurism in his new show, and his constant interplay with sexy showgirls? "It's a family show. There's nothing you can't bring a child to see. Keeping the right balance is very, very important."

OK, fine. Next question . . .

The one subject Copperfield warms to a little is Broadway. In his teens (real name: David Kotkin), he haunted the showhouses, sneaking in to see the second halves of musicals when he couldn't afford tickets.

He says those Stephen Sondheim and Bob Fosse tunes "had an enormous impact on me. I wanted to do with magic what I saw and felt then. Going back to do my own show on Broadway last year was kind of closing a circle."

An Off Broadway playwright, David Ives, assisted Copperfield on "Dreams and Nightmares" - a globe-touring revue of old and new illusions, in a gauzy, semi-autobiographical format. Ives helped rewrite the dialogue "and he encouraged me to be very personal, more autobiographical."

Movie director Francis Ford Coppola, another adviser, suggested the show's catchy title. And Copperfield says that if he wasn't getting menaced by death saws and clamped up in metal restraints nightly, he might make like "The Godfather" creator.

"Right now magic is my way of speaking," Copperfield says softly. "It's how I paint my paintings. If I wasn't doing it, I'd make movies. And someday I probably will."

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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