"The Amazing Max and the Box of Interesting Things" is an NYC show with Vegas flair, welcoming kids into a world of quirky and energetic magic that they (and their parents) won't soon forget.
Imagine for a moment the set for a Vegas magic show designed by 5-year-olds: nothing too glitzy (the real razzle-dazzle is reserved for the Amazing Max’s high voltage hocus pocus), just a draping red curtain framing a large mysterious swath of black velvet, a vase filled with -- are those?...I do believe they are! -- magic wands peeking out of an oversized gold vase, and what must be…OMG!…the Amazing Max’s tantalizing “box of interesting things”!
And while this collection of most intriguing elements will not be found in the showrooms of Caesar’s Palace (or Circus, Circus for that matter), they are ready and waiting for anyone with a love of illusion at the Manhattan Movement & Arts Center. And that, my friends, is a very good thing for New Yorkers of all ages.
Catering to Max’s young fans (and soon-to-be converts), the mise-en-scene as you enter MMAC’s theater also includes, directly in front of the stage, a large red rug where spunky 4- to 9-year-olds with special “Magic Carpet” tickets gather cross-legged to await the arrival of the Amazing One (wriggling, giggling, and bonding with newfound peers optional, but fairly de rigueur).
As for the pre-show music, no way a maverick like Max Darwin is going to sign off on kiddy tunes or ubiquitous magician background music. In his fun and funky abracadabra world, the soundtrack is strictly Top 40 pop -- a mixed tape that gets the kids psyched while assuring grown-ups they won’t be spending the next 60 minutes mentally recapping tweets and emails.
“There’s a stigma with children’s theater that comes with the belief that it’s not professional or interesting to adults,” says Darwin, who, in his many years perfecting his own brand of magical mischief, has made it his mission to ensure adults in attendance will be as enthralled as the kids. “Bringing together a group that has fun together is a great theatrical experience,” he says, adding that at every performance, he’s with the audience every step of the way and has no problem channeling his inner child for maximum multi-generational silliness: “I’m really, really, really having as much fun as they are.”
With a title like “Amazing” it’s pretty much a given that Max’s arrival won’t be run-of-the-mill: no ho-hum walk-on from backstage or materializing in a done-to-death puff of smoke. Max is all about surprise, so he hits the stage driving a tricked out go-cart wearing a sparkly black vest and a huge smile (cheers, laughs, applause). And then, without missing a beat, he launches into his signature patter: a scripted and improv combo-pack guaranteed to get everyone in the place amped and ready for his first audience “assistant” (in my visit, Jessica, a bouncy 6-year-old in a striped hooded sweater and jeans), and his lead-off illusion.
“I do a magic show that utilizes kids because, well, kids are naturally funny…and naturally brilliant. When I say, ‘Smile really big!’ it’s automatic,” Darwin says. “And kids do say -- and do! -- the darndest things,” he observes, citing one little girl who was so pumped up during her volunteer stint that “her eyes went wide, she gave me five, and went screaming around the whole theater before running back and collapsing onstage.”
In deference to Max and magicians everywhere, I won’t be disclosing any of his tricks -- although I will say that cards, coins, and a very amusing rope are part of the mix. Max may add to, subtract from, and/or rearrange his format during any given show.
Which is why the program description reads:
“Today’s Performance Might Include:
The Bag of Wonder
Coins! Coins! Coins!
The Acrobatic Knot
The First Trick I Ever Did
Hamlet [Note: He’s a Mind Reading Pig, and a true crowd pleaser!]
The Littlest Superhero
The Ring Thing
Three Ropes, One Bell
The Instant Magician
Dangerous Juggling for No Reason Whatsoever”
I will tell you, though, that Max is a masterful tummler with superpowers for knowing which kids are up to the “assistant” challenge and which ones would prefer to hang with mom and dad and participate vocally. He encourages everyone to chant the word “amazing” loudly, punctuated with a vigorous arm-pump gesture after every “ta-da” moment in the show -- of which there are oodles. “I make sure kids are comfortable and excited to be onstage,” Darwin says, pointing out that some parents are stunned that their 3- and 4-year-olds (often taking in their first theatrical experience) are willing and ready to either participate or, at the very least, sit still for an entire hour.
As for those daring tyke volunteers, they are repaid for their efforts with a souvenir magic wand plucked from the golden vase and tossed across the stage. And for the record, Max may start out choosing his audience helpers from the stage, but sooner or later he winds up trolling the audience -- even the back rows -- for potential subjects.
Darwin, who according to his bio was born to “professional street performers specializing in clowning, mime, juggling, and magic,” and who began his stage (and street) career at the age of five months, promises: “With this show the applause and laughter are genuine.”
I encourage you to see for yourself -- and ASAP, because The Amazing Max and the Box of Interesting Things is scheduled to close on July 1. So spread the word: This is one very cool, very Max, very amazing magic show.
What: The Amazing Max and the Box of Interesting Things
Where: Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, 248 W. 60th St. (between Amsterdam and West End avenues)
Running Time: 60 minutes? (no intermission)
Age Range: 3 and older
Tickets: $20-$49.50; $54 premium (Front Row/Magic Carpet Seating, includes Amazing Max souvenirs)
NYMetroParents discount: $25 for rows D thru J! When ordering, simply mention code AMNYMP46.
Online: telecharge.com; ?by phone: 212-239-6300.
Schedule: Saturdays at 4:30pm through July 1; plus two? Sunday performances: June 24 and July 1 at 4:30pm.
Birthday Parties: You bet! “See the show on the magic carpet -- standard and deluxe packages available along with VIP giveaways and options like pre- or post-show food service, face painters, balloonists, etc. To book: 212-496-2146 or birthday [at] theamazingmax.com.
For more information: theamazingmax.com.
P.S. While Max doesn’t guarantee stage time to anyone, birthday boys and girls have a magical edge!
P.P.S.: “Magic in Minutes,” Darwin’s awesome new DVD in which he demonstrates 12 easy-to-learn magic tricks to kids, is now available for purchase at MMAC’s Amazing Max boutique for $20 and online for $29.95 at maxdarwinmagic.com. (Even I mastered a couple tricks while playing it, and that’s saying something!)