Tuesday, May 13, 2008 | 2 a.m.
- New set, more neon; He's Flamingo ready (4-12-2008)
- Funny magician is serious about getting children to read (3-12-2008)
- Get down with the blues, up with comedy magic (2-22-2008)
There wasn’t much call for a dancing accordion player, so Murray SawChuck turned to magic and comedy.
Probably a good choice.
Today the 29-year-old comic magician lives in Las Vegas and performs around the world. He’s one of seven magicians starring in “Celebracadabra,” described as “Dancing With the Stars” set to magic. (The series can be seen locally at 9 p.m. Sundays on VH1, Channel 39.)
The show pairs a magician with a B-list celebrity, such as actor C. Thomas Howell or singer Carnie Wilson, who must learn a trick and perform it in less than 72 hours. The show is hosted by actor-magician Jonathan Levit.
“How the trick is done won’t be revealed,” SawChuck says. “That was a concern of a lot of magicians.”
The series has been shot, so SawChuck knows who wins the $100,000. But he won’t reveal that secret, either.
But he easily reveals his colorful character. He’s tall and lean and sports black-rimmed glasses and a Rod Stewartesque shock of white hair that gives him the look of a walking Q-tip. Instead of rabbits and pigeons, SawChuck makes CDs appear and disappear out of his electric blue suit.
Murray Sawchuk — he changed his Ukrainian last name for a catchier stage name — was born in Vancouver, British Columbia. He started dancing (ballroom, swing, Ukrainian folk) professionally when he was 5 and later added the accordion, keyboard and saxophone to his repertoire. He joined a troupe that entertained in nursing homes and schools. “The accordion is why I was 20 years old before I had my first date,” SawChuck says.
When he was 7, he began to learn magic from a Siegfried & Roy kit. By 15, he’d made enough money to buy a car. “But I was too young to drive.” So he left it in the garage, washing and polishing it every weekend until he could get his license.
SawChuck’s mentors were Marvyn and Carol Roy, who had an act called Mr. Electric with a bulb that would magically light up in Marvyn’s hand.
Roy counseled the teenage magician. “I could spend a year working on a good act and work in the business for five years because I was young and cute,” SawChuck says. “But one day the looks and the youth were going to go and I would be in trouble. Or I could spend five years developing an act and I could work for the next 50 years.”
SawChuck took the long view.
The dream brought him to Las Vegas in 2002. He’s played the New Frontier, the Riviera and the MGM Grand and toured in Asia, South America and Europe.
After establishing himself as a magician, SawChuck began adding stand-up comedy to his act. He studied comedians at open mike nights and even drove to Los Angeles on his days off to perform for free at the Laugh Factory, the Comedy Store and the Ice House.
“I’d spend like $120 in gas for those three minutes,” he says.
He commuted for almost two years before he decided he was good enough to merge comedy and magic.
His stand-up skills came in handy last month when he was a presenter at an awards ceremony in Beverly Hills. He was able to ad lib when a mechanical failure held up his magic trick for eight minutes.
“There were 800 famous people in the audience looking at me, wondering who I was,” SawChuck says. “So I start doing my stand-up. I was onstage a total of 12 minutes, presenting one award. Ten years ago I would have walked offstage when the magic didn’t work.”
SawChuck will always be a magician at heart but he wants to do more acting (he often drives four hours to Los Angeles for a two-minute audition) and to host a TV show like “Funniest Home Videos.”
“Right now I’m making a transition in my career,” he says.
I don’t know. What was wrong with being an accordion-playing Ukrainian folk dancer?