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Originally published Wednesday, April 16, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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The Spencers blend showmanship and magic in "Theatre of Illusion"

About three years ago, magician Kevin Spencer was asked by his staff of illusion-makers, How would you like to walk through a wall? "Gosh, how do you...

Times Snohomish County Bureau

"Theatre of Illusion"

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Northshore Performing Arts Center, 18125 92nd Ave. N.E., Bothell.

Tickets, information: $30 general, $25.50 students and seniors, by calling 425-408-7997 or 800-992-8499. Or go to www.npacf.org or www.spencersmagic.com.

About three years ago, magician Kevin Spencer was asked by his staff of illusion-makers, How would you like to walk through a wall?

"Gosh, how do you turn that down?" said Spencer.

"In 1914, Houdini walked through a brick wall on the stages of Broadway," he said. "He only performed it a few times, and then after closing on Broadway he never did it again."

Spencer and his wife, Cindy, re-create Houdini's feat and other magic in "Theatre of Illusion" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Northshore Performing Arts Center in Bothell.

Music, movement, scenery and dramatic lighting wrap around a series of stage illusions. It took almost two years to get from idea to paper to props being built to months of rehearsing to make walking through a wall look easy.

The other Houdini trick Spencer does is the magician's dramatic underwater escape. It was Houdini's famous finale, which Spencer calls "intensely dramatic."

"I'm chained and padlocked underwater and secured in this tank," said Spencer.

Some illusions, like mind-reading, are fun and lighthearted. Some sound treacherous, like "The Spikes of Doom," a dramatic "wind-shear" effect that's a pitched battle of man and machine — in this case, the spinning blades of a huge fan.

Some, like the illusion of sawing someone in half, are a throwback to when Spencer was a child of 8 doing magic for audiences that weren't very attentive. In Indiana, he met magician Doug Henning at a show and began seriously considering magic as a career.

"I fell in love with theater in high school and seeing great plays and musicals on Broadway," he said. "I felt magic can be presented with the same finesse and emotional tug."

The couple now mark their 20th year of performing around the world and are on the road 10 months out of the year. "We have reached a place where we're well-respected and can work with creative minds," Spencer said. "Unless you've seen us perform live before, you've probably never seen some of these illusions before."

Although a lot of the illusions are rooted in technology, it's an all-ages show that critics have called "a little bit of Broadway and a little bit of rock 'n' roll."

"I want every illusion of the show to be a theatrical experience," Spencer said. "I don't want to roll a box on stage, do a trick and roll it off. Every illusion should be presented as an art."

Special effects give the show a hip, contemporary appeal, though the Spencers never turn their back on the form's roots.

"People have to come in with the expectation that they'll have to suspend their disbelief and believe that anything is possible," he said.

"My job is to reconnect with wonder. We look past the wonders that are all around us."

In their travels, the couple bring their "Healing of Magic" therapy program with them. (www.magictherapy.com)

They've trained therapists in 30 countries in how to use magic tricks for hand-eye coordination, dexterity and fine motor skills. The therapy has proved effective with everyone from special-needs children to older people who have had strokes.

"Someone with a stroke might lose the ability to sequence things in order," he says. "There are a lot of occupational therapies that might help them get those skills back."

Diane Wright: 425-745-7815 or dwright@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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