David Thomas: The Ilusionist
Stage lights illuminate a man on a high table, 14 feet above the stage. He’s bound with shackles, struggling against his chains. Above him, rows of 18-inch, solid steel spikes point downward. He has seconds to free himself before they drop. The audience waits in silent expectation. The spikes fall and crash onto an empty table. Emmy award-winning illusionist David Thomas has escaped again.
The “Table of Death” is one of many illusions mastered by the Edmond resident. “It’s very tongue-in-cheek,” Thomas says. “Magic is really one of the few shows that cuts across all ages – children to grandparents.”
Thomas began his career in a small, one-man show at Frontier City in the 1970s. These days, he performs magic all over the world, and his larger gigs boast a team of 30 people. Last year, Toyota invited him to unveil a new car by making it appear out of thin air at the Citadel, an ancient castle in Cairo, Egypt. He also made a Lockheed Martin jet appear in Las Vegas.
At one Caesar’s Palace show, Thomas asked for 12 volunteers from the audience. The volunteers were each given flashlights and told to search every inch of the stage for anything suspicious. He then instructed them to form a circle and hold hands, blindfolded. A cloth was raised in the center of the circle, and then dropped seconds later to reveal a NASCAR automobile sitting in their midst.
“I believe in very high-impact visual illusions that are done machine-gun style. There’s constantly something going on to take your breath away,” he says. “One of my favorites is ‘Metamorphosis,’ created by Houdini in the 1900s, where you and your assistant instantly trade places.”
Another classic illusion adopted by Thomas is the Selbit Sawing. “It’s the original sawing-a-woman-in-half illusion, performed exactly as it was in the 1920s by P.T. Selbit. It’s completely different from the modern version,” he says.
In the version Thomas replicates, a woman is strapped to a table and apparently sawed in half, while the straps are held by volunteers the entire time. “Visually, it’s different from anything you’ve ever seen,” he says. “We do it with updated music and updated choreography, but the meat of the illusion is very, very classical.”
Thomas leased a theatre in Branson for five years. He also coproduced the “World’s Greatest Magic Show” at the Sahara Las Vegas Hotel and Casino with Dick Feeney, who owns the famous “Flying Elvi” parachuting Elvis Presley impersonators. These days, Thomas focuses on corporate entertainment, which takes him all over the world. “We don’t do a lot of work here in Oklahoma, but we would love to.”
“I gave up the Branson market and all that stuff because I enjoy the challenge of one-nighters, but I enjoy being home, too,” he says. Many people in his team have families, and they live all over the country. “We just meet up and do our show and then go home and enjoy our lives.”
In addition to performances at corporate events, Thomas produces all of the entertainment at the theme park where he got his start. “What’s great about Frontier City is that it allows me a place to perform when I’m in town and keep in practice. You’ve got to practice every day when you do what I do,” Thomas says.
“Magic is like comedy. It’s either funny or its not. It’s either really good or it’s really bad. There’s no middle ground,” Thomas says. “It’s a live show, and no show is ever perfect. The key is that when things do go wrong, to have the experience to know how to handle it.”
Once, in front of 3,000 people in Detroit, Michigan, Thomas made a woman disappear. She was supposed to return seconds later, but she didn’t. After he made it clear to the audience that he wasn’t concerned and she wasn’t lost in some netherworld between dimensions, it drew them into the illusion even more.
When it worked on the second try, they gave him a standing ovation. “When something goes wrong, you handle it. Having confidence in your team behind the scenes is what really makes what I do work,” he says. “We’re there to entertain, to make an audience’s night memorable.”
For more information about David Thomas, visit www.theworldofmagic.com.