Arts and Culture | Staycation

Horwitz mixes magic and mystery at local dinner theater

Ross Horwitz, who bills himself simply as “Ross the Magician,” has been practicing magic since he was 7 years old. He spent his early life in Chicago and attended a Jewish summer camp in Michigan, where he got his first taste of making the impossible possible from a camp director who was a professional magician.  Horwitz was hooked. The first trick he ever learned was how to make a quarter disappear and his ability to amaze and astound started paying dividends for him rather early on. Horwitz says he used to perform the trick for his grandfather, though his grandfather always told him “not to bother” with making the money rematerialize. “Then he’d say, ‘Can you do it again?’” says Horwitz, “and so pretty soon I’d have a buck and a half performing magic for my grandfather.” That, he says, is when he first became a “professional” magician.

Horwitz has performed illusions in some interesting locations around the world, from the Las Vegas strip, to a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas, to the famed Magic Castle in the Hollywood Hills. Today he does upwards of 100 shows a year, offering entertainment at everything from children’s birthday parties to large corporate conventions. Still, Horwitz says he never tires of inspiring his audiences to think analytically about what it is they’ve just seen happen on his stage. He says “even pure skeptics and disbelievers” must creatively problem solve how he manages to trick their eyes into believing he’s accomplished an inexplicable feat. “You get them thinking,” he says, “and that’s a great thing.”

He was selected recently by the Society of American Magicians — a professional organization that stretches back to the days when  Harry Houdini, the son of an Orthodox rabbi, ran it — as the “Arizona State Stage Magician of the Year” for 2016-2017. But Horwitz says the best part of his job involves working with kids. He taught a weekly magic class at the Tucson Jewish Community Center for a number of years and has embraced other magical teaching opportunities over the course of his career. While his own children were at the Tucson Hebrew Academy, for example, Horwitz volunteered to help teach Jewish traditions with a little bit of pizzazz alongside Rabbi Billy Lewkowicz. He made a live chicken appear out of thin air to help introduce students to kapparot (a Yom Kippur Eve custom encouraging tzedakah, or charity, and feeding the poor), for example, and “magically” assembled a 100-foot-long string of Israeli flags out of a blank white flag-sized cloth, a Star of David, and a pair of prayer shawls for a lesson on Yom Ha’atzmaut, or Israeli Independence Day. When lessons are infused with a touch of magic, Horwitz says, students in the audience won’t forget what they’ve learned, “and they’ll remember it in a way that you couldn’t just teach them.”

He says that the type of students who tend to take an interest in magic are, in his experience, smart if not a tad precocious. “They believe that anything is possible, and they want to learn how to accomplish the impossible,” he says. In fact, Horwitz says that “being able to perform the impossible” is the very definition of magic. “And,” he says, “I think there’s nothing better that you can teach a child than that everything is possible. Nothing is beyond your reach — you just have to figure out the way to get there.”

Today, the majority of Ross the Magician’s performances take place at the Five Palms Restaurant on Sunrise Drive in the “Mystery and Magic Dinner Theater Playhouse,” which runs multiple performances in a private upstairs room of the venue every weekend. The semi-improvisational comedy sketch-style performance in three acts is conveniently set at a magic show, where “The Mostly Magnificent Steve” (sometimes played by Horwitz) seems to be having some difficulty keeping his lovely assistants alive. Tickets include admission to the show as well as a three-course meal from the Five Palms.

Horwitz says magic and mystery are a “perfect melding, of genres” as both invite their own form of intrigue. “You solve a mystery,” he says of the show, “and in the meantime you’re watching magic and trying to solve those mysteries, too.” The high level of audience participation in the show, he says, creates an added tension that is unique to magic shows. He says this “causes adrenaline-inducing excitement about whether to volunteer” and also serves to foster a sort of camaraderie between the audience members who remain in their seats, and those brave enough to venture on stage.

The audience is limited to just over 50 people, so performances tend to sell out. It’s therefore necessary to buy tickets in advance. Audience members are invited to try and solve the mystery themselves for the chance at winning a prize and might even walk out with a magic trick of their own up their sleeve. According to Horwitz, “One of the most fun things about magic is that you get to try and solve it for yourself.” And, anyway, who doesn’t love a little bit of mystery?

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit MysteryDinner.Theater or call 861-4800. Mention that you are a Jewish Post reader for $5 off of the $75 ticket price.

Craig S. Baker is a freelance writer in Tucson.