Entering the front door of Liberty Magic is its own bit of magic — as if someone shook a wand and conjured you into the heart of some whimsical magician’s sanctuary. One of only five magic-specific venues in the U.S., Liberty Magic’s opening in February added something unique to Pittsburgh and to the arsenal of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which owns it.
The venue on Liberty Avenue Downtown is a gem. Adorning the patchwork of cubbies and cubes in the walls are the tools of the trade: Rubber balls that seem frozen in time tumble out of a top hat toward the ground, while a rabbit stands defiantly below. Though the houses of cards and wands are a given, the Dali-esque melting clocks dotting the space add a surrealist touch.
There’s even a resident magician in the lobby to dazzle you while you wait for the show.
Each guest receives their “tickets” at will-call at the counter. Mine was a six of diamonds playing card, while my wife got a five of clubs. We were then all ushered into the showroom, a cozy 70-seat venue where no one is further than 15 feet from the action. Two wall-mounted television screens affixed to the back of the stage display Liberty Magic’s logo, a sealed deck of cards placed on a green-felted table between them.
Within moments, the room darkened and the show’s introduction began. A mashup of “The Sopranos” and Pittsburgh played on the TV screens in black and white, the infamous Tony Soprano replaced with Pittsburgh born and raised Lee Terbosic driving through Downtown and the Strip.
Terbosic is a fixture in the magic community, best known to Pittsburghers as the mind and talent behind Houdini 100. On Nov. 6, 2016, Terbosic recreated Houdini’s suspended straightjacket escape exactly 100 years (to the minute) after Houdini did the same above the corner of Wood St. and Liberty Ave.
Bringing wit, charm and a dash of vulgarity to an alluring stage presence, Terbosic made easy work of reeling the sold-out crowd into the palm of his hand and keeping them there for the entire 75-minute show.
In Plain Sleight cobbles together a delightful mix of self-deprecating comedy, mystifying illusions and even a little poetry into a captivating performance that keeps the momentum high.
Like other shows here, expect a lot of audience participation.
He name-drops locations like the Cuckoo’s Nest in the South Side, shares stories of performing for his family during Steelers game half-times and tosses out some good-natured ribbing at the audience’s expense — all serving to disarm and misdirect. Terbosic is at his best when he has the crowd laughing and excels at converting a room of show-goers into a crowd wondering, “How’d he do that?”
They always say save the best for last, and Terbosic certainly delivered.
When searching for an assistant for his final trick, he called upon a member of the audience who had been heckling him a few times that night — and boy, did she make him regret it. After making a #metoo joke, slurring a few words and placing the heel of her boot on Terbosic’s back for leverage, the volunteer locked Terbosic up in a vintage-style straightjacket with every strap tightened to its last notch.
Still, Terbosic escaped in less than a minute before thanking the audience for joining him.
The Life and Death of Harry Houdini, Terbosic’s second show at Liberty Magic, takes advantage of the unique space by using it to fully immerse the audience in a narrative. Replete with bowtie and gray/blue tweed suit, Houdini (played by Terbosic) enters onto a set modeled after the famed magician’s New York living room.
In any other space, it might be difficult to fully buy into the idea of sitting in Houdini’s living room, watching as he regales you with tales of his life and some of his best closeup magic. But in this space? Liberty Magic’s stage completes the illusion.
If you reserve far enough in advance, you might score one of the Skeleton Key VIP experiences before they sell out. Not only does the experience guarantee a reserved seat within the venue’s first two rows, but you’ll also get the chance to enjoy a very intimate, exclusive Q+A with the magician backstage — and a side of even more magic.
The Life and Death of Harry Houdini runs nightly until Nov. 17. In Plain Sleight is featured again from Nov. 20 through Nov. 24. Tickets start at $40 and are going fast; every show at Liberty Magic since February has been at 90% capacity, if not sold-out. Liberty Magic is BYOB plus a $5 corkage fee per guest. Bottled water and seltzer are complimentary.