What They Say It Is:
Fred Siegel is an improviser, a professor at Drexel and… a magician. A magician with a mysterious past that will terrify you!
Not really. But it’s an amazing story.
In Man of Mystery, Fred tells tales of dank magic shops, manipulative mentors and his summer telling lies for money on the Coney Island Boardwalk all while performing astonishing sleight of hand right before your very eyes. It’s a funny, freaky intimate magic show you will not forget.
As soon as Mr. Siegel took the stage, I recognized him from previous performances of ComedySportz or (I can’t recall for certain) possibly Tongue & Groove, both of which are large ensemble groups who we’ve enjoyed in the past. I also recalled that he was a standout performer (regardless of whatever shows I might have seen him in) and immediately knew this would be an enjoyable show.
The theme and arrangement of Man of Mystery (MoM) is a fine mixture of self reflection, nostalgia, history lesson, and magic show. Offstage, an assistant supplements scenes with a tastefully well-done live-performance piano soundtrack (this really worked quite well–between the ambiance of the music and the subtle lighting arrangement, this small show demonstrates how to do a good performance on a humble budget). The performance itself plays like a scrapbook of a man with one foot in the dissipating past, and the other foot stepping onto a stage. Mr. Siegel’s show describes a boyhood lived in the throes of a magical obsession, long-gone friends made in seedy magic stores, and learning the art of showmanship on the Atlantic City boardwalk. He weaves in entries from his lifelong dream journal (the entries are often apropos of nothing but create a comic, reflective tone), and the occasional magic trick. His slight-of-hand card shuffling is fine to watch, and although ‘actual magic’ is only one element of this hour-long show, the smattering of other classic tricks are also well executed. The best of these may have been when he caused a dollar bill (signed by an audience member) appear within an uncut lemon–even having been called to the stage to hold his knife and observe the action firsthand, I couldn’t explain how exactly Mr. Siegel achieved this trick.
Best of all, however, is Mr. Siegel’s sense of drama and comedy. His affect is that of a comfortable, seasoned stage performer–someone who can mug for the audience without seeming stilted, or can rattle off painful groaners and get plenty of laughs…even when the jokes themselves really don’t deserve it. He’s genuine and sweet when he reflects on the men who taught him the art of magic performance, carrying the audience along into his vaults of childhood memory. He’s wonderfully funny when he pauses on a punchline, and just generally radiates the aura of someone happy to be doing what they’re doing, showing magic telling stories to an appreciating audience.
We were lucky enough to catch the final night of Man of Mystery’s current run, but based on internet posts, it appears Mr. Siegel may occasionally revive this show from time to time. If that does happen in the future, I’d recommend a visit to this mysterious world–it’s a mesmerizing journey into the past, sprinkled with laughter, sentiment, and some good tricks to boot.
It was an exciting evening for the Clay family- two live events in one night! First, we were scheduled to see Fred Siegel, Man of Mystery (an autobiography that promised truth and magic . . . and lies?) Then, immediately afterwards (and just across the street!) we had tickets to see Judah Friedlander at Helium comedy club.
I am always pleasantly surprised to learn peoples’ personal stories, as they consistently amaze me with the retelling of their vast and varied accomplishments. Dr. Siegel—the single actor in Man of Mystery—also performs with ComedySportz improv group, while also pursuing his life as a writer, teacher, actor and magician. This autobiographical show describes his journey from childhood magic aficionado, to a carnival barker at Coney Island, to his adult life in Philadelphia—all with impressive (and personal) audience-participation-magic sprinkled in.
One of the best autobiographical moments in Man of Mystery was Siegel’s recollection of a grumpy magic store owner who acted as a mentor to the young magician, and who is remembered and missed by the narrator. Also, as I’ve never seen the side-show barkers or the “scam” shows at Coney Island, Siegel really took me in with his telling of his own first experiences on the boardwalk—including his description of a frightening visit to a darkened carnival exhibit where a girl in a cage ‘transformed’ into a gorilla! This story seemed like such an excellent metaphor for aspects of growing up–a situation is presented, it is (at first) mysterious, unbelievable and frightening . . . and then you may discover that the fictions you believed turn out to be banal lies. However, if you are lucky, you can try to recognize and hold onto the whimsy and curiosity of those first revelatory moments, and maybe even learn something about yourself.
The newspaper magic trick was my favorite magic trick of the evening. Dr. Siegel held up what appears to be a standard section of a daily newspaper, then shreds the newspaper into pieces before the audience . . . and then magically restores the unripped pages at the end of the trick. Quite nice work!
I also enjoyed the pacing of the show. I loved that the content varied between straight narrative, magic, and even musical numbers (in my opinion, Mr. Siegel has a very nice singing voice). Also, as a bonus, my husband (and co-blogger, Clay) was picked to participate in one of the evening’s magic tricks—it is always undeniably fun to see your family become a part of a live performance.
If I’m pressed to name my least favorite element of the night, I can say that although I understood the intended use of the dream interpretation sections of the show (Mr. Siegel would periodically drop into mysterious, eerie entries from his real-life dream journals), I’d admit that—given that all shows have high and low points–the dream narrations were my personal ‘low points’ of the show.
You know, having seen and enjoyed this performance, it occurs to me that magic often gets a bad rap. People might see magic mentioned in the advertisement for Man of Mystery and imagine it will be cheesy or lame or over the top, while in reality, this show is none of the above (although Dr. Siegel wisely chooses to include some excellent ‘creepy’ magic tricks and jokes). And even if magic shows aren’t your favorite sort of activity, the honest narrative of Man of Mystery provides a perfect balance for the fun deceptions and whimsy of the magic.
This was a delightful and enjoyable evening. I would say that if you like podcasts like This American Life or The Moth—i.e. honest and entertaining personal stories–then you will enjoy Fred Siegel, Man of Mystery.