When Teller – first name discarded long ago – was five, he sent away for a Howdy Doody Magic Kit. (FYI for Millenials and such, HD was a geeky puppet with a hit TV show in the 1950s…just Google it.) Mostly cardboard—“It involved a lot of punching things out and putting them together,” recalls Teller—the kit became the catalyst to a lifetime fascination, not only with tricks per se, but with creating and performing atypical, and occasionally twisted, magical stuff.
It doesn’t hurt that he’s a perfectionist. Or that his co-conspirator Penn Jillette has shared his passion for pushing the envelope during their nearly 40 years together. Still, in 1985 when the two made their New York debut Off-Broadway, the words “Penn & Teller” did not conjure up the current visual of 6’6” dark haired Penn and blonde, 5’9” Teller as they are today: dazzling gobstruck audiences at the Penn & Teller Theater in the Rio Las Vegas Hotel, popping up regularly on television, snagging a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and, now, returning to New York for an all too brief Broadway run at the Marquis Theater where, among other things, they’ll pull a rabbit out of a hat.
“Penn and I were talking one day and realized that while pulling a real rabbit out of a top hat is the quintessential magic trick, we’d never actually seen it done—nor had anyone else we talked to,” says Teller. This compelled them to create their own version. “It took about six months to get it right and it turned out to be a real test of our machismo as magicians,” he adds, saying it’s definitely “one of the most ‘show-offy’ pieces of magic we do.”
Notably, all the new pieces were created in their Vegas theater, a space Teller sees as a kind of personal laboratory. “We have a free hand to devel- op material and rehearse any time we want,” he notes, calling the space “a luxury you can’t get anywhere else.”
Balancing out the show…and catering to long-time fans, Penn and Teller will also be performing some of their classic material, including Teller’s needle-swallowing act and Penn’s monologue about the Ten-in-One Show with fire eating.
Joining Penn and Teller onstage are bebop pianist Mike Jones, the gorgeous and glitzy Georgie Bernasek and, apparently, 40 audience members—the latter for the Vanishing Pygmy Elephant act.
But perhaps I’ve revealed too much. Without compromising anymore awe, I leave you with these suggestions: 1) This is not a kids show, but if your 7 or 8-year old can handle (or relishes) madcap gore, go for it; 2) Come ready to laugh, Teller’s physical comedy alone (he doesn’t speak in the show, you know), is worth the price of admission; and 3) Get your tickets NOW—yes, the Marquis is big, but Penn & Teller are going to sell out… trust me.