The story behind “Magic in Mandolins” ,Orlando’s fine-dining dinner show from 2006-2010
The first and only fine-dining Orlando, Florida area magic-dinner show closed last year but this it an interesting look at its history. Many magicians have dreamed of having their own showroom where crowds nightly thrill to their unique style of magic. Dan Stapleton created his own popular dinner attraction, Magic in Mandolins, at The Radisson Resort-Orlando and he has allowed me to pull back the curtain to see how he did it.
The Orlando area in Central Florida is a major tourist destination for the world. Orlando gained the reputation as being a magical place. This was due to the fantasy feeling of the theme parks as well as the rapid population and business development. Aside from a few sporadic magic shows within the theme parks, other attractions that exclusively featuring magic and illusions have been less than successful.
Fewer personality types are more suited to creating an independent magic attraction than an experienced cruise director. The skills set needed to succeed in both areas are: A compelling and fun personality, flexibility, creativity, people skills, theatrics, business savvy and a love for a challenge. These factors all had a major role, along with a bit of luck, for Orlando magician-illusionist, Dan Stapleton. Dan was originally from Milwaukee and came to Orlando in 1973 to work at Walt Disney World. He performed in the magic shop on Main Street in Disney World. During those years Dan was a frequent act at magic conventions and even did a strait jacket escape over Interstate 4 while being suspended 200 feet beneath an airborne helicopter. After a stint as an owner at another magic shop outside of Disney at the former Mystery Fun House. Dan worked for 4 years at the old Circus World doing the Illusion Show and at a Wild West dinner attraction. He decided to go to sea with his award winning magic act where the work was steady.
After 23 years he decided to leave the sea-going life behind, to spend more time with his wife and teenage children. His thoughts turned to a shore gig that could benefit from his years of experience as a cruise entertainer and director. He was drawn to a job that is nearly identical but without the ship: A resort entertainment director.
His employer, The Radisson Resort-Orlando, wanted to try a Murder Mystery dinner show in the “Oak Room”, a part of the Mandolins dining area but it only seated 50. The cost of a Murder show staff and production would not have been cost effective. This led to the suggestion, by Dan, that they present an intimate and smaller magic experience. They went for the idea in early 2007. The Oak Room was transformed into a Victorian style seance room with poster portraits of Thurston and Carter looking down to the step-up stage. Lit candles on both sides of portraits, with black glitter curtain swooping down, add to the impression. An ornate table and two chairs on stage have a goblet, card deck and “spirit bell”. Guests know they are in for a magical evening. To get audiences in the mood, twelve vintage magic poster reproductions on lighted easels line the entrance way to the performing area.
The night, my wife Cindy and I attended the show; Mark Fitzgerald provided delightful walk-around table magic during the dinner with cards, coins and rubber bands. The name of the dining complex is called Mandolins and a live guitar and mandolin serenade was performed by musician German Collazos of Columbia.
The meal was gourmet food on fine china in buffet style. The dining area is elegantly decorated with fine marble and a rich Mediterranean Villa feel. In fact, this feeling carries through the whole Radisson Resort theme. As we turned off of busy Highway 192 just off I-4 in Kissimmee, Florida, the actual municipality where the resort is located in suburban Orlando, our eyes were filled with spectacular greenery. The palm trees and enchanting architecture were bathed by the August evening sun.
The performance room in Mandolins is adjacent to the dining area but a separate room. Dan has a light tree for colored stage lights and the finale effect in the rear of the room.
In the audience were 35 magicians and spouses along with 15 lay persons for the maximum seating of 50. The show plays regularly on Thursdays during “tourist seasonal times” when families are in the resort. During the slowest times of the year the show is available only for groups and conferences. The dinner show is $29.95 adults and $15.95 children. The show runs 45-60 min. Dinner is at 7pm and the show at 8pm.
Mark Fitzgerald, already known to the audience from his walk-around magic, introduced Dan. Dan walked up through the audience to applause and wears a velvet deep purple coat with an open burgundy colored shirt. He greeted the audience and explained the show would be in three parts. He said first he would do a bit of close up magic right in front of your eyes. The second part will be a penetration into everyone’s mind with ESP magic and finally, in the third part, would his favorite classic parlor magic.
Dan immediately challenged the audience to a test. It involved holding out both hands straight, crossing then over and clasping them together. The Twilight Zone music theme played as Dan was able to untwist his hands and the audience is unable to do it with theirs. This effect is now a classic bit, that most magicians know, but it still gets the lay audience involved and ready to see more.
The close-up magic proceeded rapidly. A packet of sugar from a dining table vanished in his fist and reappeared inside a female spectator’s purse. There was a Professor’s Nightmare with three audience assistants followed by two live goldfish materializing out of thin air into a water-filled wine goblet. There is a sponge ball routine with an audience member and their ring replaced the vanished sponge ball.
The highpoint of the close-up segment was a story about Dan’s Irish ancestry and a Card Stab routine with a knife he said was an antique family heirloom. A playing card, freely selected by an audience member, was the card that was found impaled by the knife as the rest of the cards fall to the floor in a flash of fire. The lit candle on the table then was made to vanish and the first segment concluded.
Dan deliberately puts the close-up segment at the top of the show to transform passive spectators into active participants.
Now the audience was ready for the part of the show that explored the mind.
A sealed white envelope with a predicted word inside was displayed and handed to an audience member. Another audience member was asked to tell Dan at what exact point to use his scissors to clip off the end of a long newspaper clipping. The clipping fluttered to the floor and was retrieved by the spectator. The sentence at the clipped point matched the prediction that was in the envelope from the beginning.
The concluding effect in this segment was a signature effect with Dan. Six spectators that never met Dan wrote their first names on strips of paper. All the papers were attached to a long strip of masking tape held between the arms of a spectator. One was freely chosen and burned and the ashes were rubbed on Dan’s arm and the name of the person on the burned paper materialized on his arm.
The final segment of the show was a few of Dan’s larger performance pieces that have been perfected from years on the cruise ships. He begins with two microphone stands spaced ten feet apart with a white rope stretched between them. Magicians will recognize this effect as a Pavel creation, but Dan adds music and a touch of theatrics. The rope is cut and knotted at the middle and then the knot is slid to one side and untied to show the actual cut has migrated. It is then slid to the other side. Finally the rope is fully restored.
Another signature effect, fine-tuned by many years of performances, is “Stapleton’s Sympathetic Silks”. In Dan’s hands this becomes a major production. Two women were invited up on stage to sit in two wooden chairs places on each side of the stage. One set of large silk scarves were tied together and given to one woman. The other set of scarves were left untied and in the procession of the second woman. Dan then did a bit of dancing and charade from side to side to the song “Hey Big Spender”. He quips, “I used to be a Chip n’ Dip dancer!” It ended with the knots changing places. The startling finale was that two bottles of real Champagne appearing in each bundle of large scarves and handed to the ladies as they returned to their seats with big applause.
The tried and true Lester Lake Head Chopper followed using the help of a gentleman from the audience. Here again, Dan uses his own unique presentation. The chopper is introduced as, “something I picked up at Lorena Bobbitt’s garage sale!” Many comic lines are used and even a detached head puppet in a bucket is held up singing, “I Ain’t got No body”. Dan’s light-hearted presentation equals the best of the old pros.
What had to be the most ethereal and awe-inspiring effect was a Dan’s version of Karson’s Zombie Ball. He themed it around “The Birth of a Pearl” and the orb was an iridescent pearl. An automated clam shell on the table top slowly opened as appropriate music played. The pearl emerged from the shell. It floated with Dan’s excellent manipulation which was made even more effective by using a ragged covering cloth with ragged holes through it and covered with sea netting. Any magician who knows this familiar effect would be amazed at the deceptiveness.
Stapleton’s final effect of the evening was the story about his childhood in the snowy winters of Wisconsin. He remarked that even though he has spent many years in Florida and on tropical cruise ships he still dreams about his old northern winter wonderlands and the giant snowflakes. He began with the classic Chinese snowstorm and concluded with the entire performance room filled with snow falling as music softly played in the background. It was a captivating emotional conclusion to nearly an hour of non-stop intimate magic.