Illusionist Jason Bishop delivers an entertaining and nimble magic show at Casa Mañana.

Photo: Matt Christine

Fort Worth — Magic is all about chops. Like an athlete, it demands physical exertion and agility. Like a classical musician, it requires extreme precision while seeming effortless. Like an actor, charisma makes it matter.

It’s all too easy to dismiss stage magic as smoke, mirrors, and sophisticated gadgetry. As if these things were easy to do, all while smiling in front of a crowd. Even simple tricks can take years to perfect.

Illusionist and magician Jason Bishop shows why magic is called prestidigitation—nimble hands. The man has mad finger skills. 

Jason Bishop: The Illusionist runs through April 7 at Casa Mañana.

A breathtaking display of playing-card pyrotechnics concludes the show. Bishop fans a deck of cards like a poker dealer as the cards shrink and then grow in size —a live hallucination. He bounces cards off the stage floor like he’s playing handball. Cards shoot from his hands and rain down upon the audience in a blizzard of playing-card confetti.

No gadgets, no gear, nothing but hands and cards. Now that’s chops.

By the card act’s end, the audience is screaming in delight that this is happening real-time before them, allowing them to let go of their limits to unleash the very best of magic’s transportive spirit.

Photo: Matt ChristineJason Bishop

The all-ages show is a big high-tech production, with video and optical effects projected on screens. The lighting design is subtle and excellent, making the most of shadowy light that reinforces the magician’s manipulation of perception, while sparking it with sharp gobo beams. A familiar modern rock and pop music soundtrack blasts forth.

Bishop strides among the effects in his signature black Diesel jacket, skinny jeans, and black leather boots—a magician kids can relate to. Born to heroin-addicted parents in New Jersey, Bishop ended up in an orphanage and then foster homes for over a decade, leaving on his 18th birthday.

Magic was how Bishop found a niche at his peripatetic upbringing, studying obsessively via books. By age 15, shows got foisted upon his classmates. In his senior year, he’d linked up with classmate Kim Hess, herself a national champion baton artist, as his cohort and they set off to become a professional magic act.

After two off-Broadway shows, Jason Bishop – Straight Up Magic and Jason Bishop – Believe in Magic, the duo hit the road. Jason Bishop: The Illusionist contains plenty of splashy magic. There are numerous (too numerous) variations on the classic box trick. Hess climbs into a container that is collapsed down to a wisp of its original size. Sometimes swords are run through it; other times it is tied and locked. At one point, a Yorkshire terrier named Gizmo goes into the box.

Hess always emerges, unscathed and in a new outfit, sometimes from the same container, sometimes from another, or simply strolls in from off stage. Eschewing the usual magician assistant’s sparkle attire, Hess’ athletic leggings and skinny jeans accentuate her job’s physical demands. Box tricks already require radical contortionist skills by the containee. Hess layers in complete costume changes. Take that, Teller!

While the box tricks can get fatiguing, Bishop’s smart-ass stage patter keeps the energy up. He’s a great deal funnier than most comic magicians, constantly riffing like a radio deejay. He opens with a sly cryonics bit about Walt Disney. Jokes about sex, celebrities, and getting high sail over the younger ones’ heads  — “If your kid gets all my jokes, you’re a terrible parent,” says Bishop after a circumcision bit — while adults groan at those meant for kids. Criss Angel jokes are plentiful. The Casa Mañana geodesic dome is dubbed “ the world’s largest Jiffy Pop bag.”

Levitation tricks, where the magician’s assistant is levitated and hovers for a bit, are all about the equipment. Much staging finesse is required to set them up and the gear weighs a ton or more. Which is why levitation is rarely performed outside a magician’s home venue.

Yet there Bishop is, on the road performing not one but two levitation tricks. At one point, Hess floats in the air while lying serenely over 10 yards up — quite a bit higher than most levitations — with nary a tug or wave from wires or magnetics. It looks surreal. On the second round, Bishop joins her, levitating himself while standing, no small trick. He’s the only magician to do a double levitation on the road.

But it is the magic, more than the illusion, where Bishop excels because it’s personable. Perched on stage at a café table framed by tiny cameras, Bishop performs close-up magic (called micro-magic in Europe) projected on a big screen. A dollar bill is folded and unfolded into a $100 note and back again. A flick of the wrist turns a messed-up Rubik’s Cube into a finished one. An animated goldfish swimming on a smart-phone touch screen effortlessly transforms into a live wriggling goldfish. True sleight of hand.

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The glee on Bishop’s face as kids squeal and adults whisper “How’d he do that?” makes it clear he’ll never outgrow his roots as a foster kid, learning magic on his own to set himself apart, exemplifying how magic is life and life is what you make it. 

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