Broadway becomes a circus midway

With "Blackstone!" and "Barnum" playing opposite each other, West 44th Street has become a midway of super spectacle and high hokum. "Blackstone!" ends its exclamation mark by presenting Harry Blackstone, the son of the famed magician, in two acts and approximately two hours of marvelous fun and tricks. The entertainment at the Majestic Theater is subtitled "The Magnificent Musical Magic Show." If the magic is more magnificent than the music, the hyperbole can be forgiven. Harry Blackstone lives up to the Playbill's description of him as a "pre-eminent prestidigitator and master of illusion."

Brisk, bespectacled, and neatly bearded, Mr. Blackstone is the very model of a modern magic major general. Almost constantly onstage, he beguiles the audience with a stream of jocular banter even as he is astonishing them with his sleight of hand and eye-popping conjurer's feats. If Mr. Blackstone were not a magician, he might be mistaken for a dashing young executive or a favorite professor at a college of magical knowledge.

A father himself, he establishes instant rapport with children. The seven-year-old boy who, at the preview I attended, left the Majestic with a black-and-white bunny rabbit and a box of chocolates (both miraculously produced) experienced some thrills he will probably never forget. It should be noted, moreover, that Mr. Blackstone gave careful instructions about how "Sherman" (named for the youngster's dad) should be cared for.

Needless to say, the rabbit and assorted pigeons are among the tiniest of the creatures great and small that appear and disappear in the course of this instructive entertainment. The menagerie also includes an eagle, a donkey, a camel, a tiger, and an elephant.

It is difficult, amid all the magnificent magic, to single out special favorites. But there are no tricks like the old tricks. "The Enchanted Garden" sprouts full-blown floral bouguets undreamed of in the most frabjous seed catalog. "The Extraordinary Floating Light Bulb" soars through the air and over the audience without a by-your-leave from Con Edison. There are a flag unfurling, "Salute To Our Heritage," "Mysteries of the Orient," and "Moorish Fantasies" -- replete with dancing chorus opulently costumed by Winn Morton. Nor should one forget the lady and "the incredible buzz saw." Mr. Blackstone displays simultaneously his skills as escape artist and pickpocket in a spectator-participation act. At the above-mentioned preview, he not only got himself cumbersomely tied and neatly untied but relieved Robert Sherman, program director of the prestigious radio station WQXR, of his watch, belt, wallet, and fountain pen.

The only threat to the pleasures of "Blackstone!" is a raucous overamplification that actually makes it hard at times to hear what the articulate Mr. Blackstone is saying. Why are so-called sound engineers permitted to turn up the volume high enough to blast the audience? The remedy is so simple. For a master magician-showman of Mr. Blackstone's heritage and attainments, lowering the decibel count should be no trick at all.

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