By Susan and Simon Veness
When you think of dinner shows you probably think of big-scale productions with lots of singing, maybe some horses, stadium seating full of shouting guests, and a plate full of food dished out of big tub. But Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show at WonderWorksgoes small scale—with spectacular results! We chatted with magician, impersonator, and comedian Tony Brent...
Us:When did your interest in magic begin?
Tony: Around the ripe old age of seven. A school assembly performer came to my elementary school each year and performed a magic show with an anti-drug message. I headed straight to the school library to learn as much about magic as I could.
Us: Who inspired you most as you were learning your skills?
Tony:There was a magician named Dick Williams who had a weekly half-hour magic show on local television that I loved to watch. I was also inspired by comedians such as Steve Martin and Jonathan Winters, who used props and improvisational comedy.
Us: How did you learn your skills?
Tony: I learned the basics from books. When I was starting out there were no magic DVD’s and the internet wasn’t available. I grew up in a tiny community in Tennessee and there were no other magicians in the area to learn from. My love of reading came from how many magic books I devoured.
Us:How did you form a tie-up with WonderWorks? What led to your show being added to the attraction?
Tony: I moved to Orlando in 1999 after signing a contract to perform at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While I was performing at Disney I had heard about a show that was going to open inside of WonderWorks and that they were seeking a magician. I contacted them and someone came out to watch me perform at Disney, and that’s how it began.
Us: Do you have a favorite illusion?
Tony: I don’t have a single favorite but right up at the top would be the “Bill In Lemon” trick that I do in the show, were a volunteer’s signed $100 vanishes and appears inside a lemon that another audience member is holding. The trick itself is actually over 100 years old and was first performed in Vaudeville.
Us: What was the most difficult illusion to learn, or the most difficult illusion to pull off on stage?
Tony: Well, in my show the most technically difficult magic is probably the card manipulations that I do at the very beginning of the show. I want the audience to realize that the show isn’t going to be a cheesy kids-only type show so I hit them hard with some difficult card vanishes and appearances right off the bat. There are no props or gimmicks; it relies solely on sleight-of-hand. I’ve been working on it since 1996.
Us: We know your show relies on guest interaction. Tell us a few good stories about your interactions with guests.
Tony: I’ve had children laugh so hard that they’ve peed on the stage floor. I’ve had men propose to their girlfriends on stage during the show. I once had an elderly man break out into an incredible dance routine on stage, and we later found out that he had been a professional dancer when he was young. My style is very loose and informal and I encourage them to cut loose and have fun. I know their families will have their cameras ready and take pictures, which will create lasting memories of their time with us—except maybe the children who pee.
Us: Has a guest ever done anything on stage that took you completely by surprise?
Tony: I used to do a trick in which I would have a person hold a wine glass filled with water; I would then produce a live goldfish in the glass. One night I produced the goldfish and the man holding the glass immediately drank the fish.
Us: If you had unlimited finances and unlimited space in which to perform, is there an illusion you would love to do?
Tony: I do not personally believe bigger is better. There isn’t any large illusion I have an interest in doing. My show and my attitude focuses upon the audience and the volunteers I bring on stage.The idea is to make stars out of the audience members. The actual magic “props” used in my show could mostly fit in my pockets. The largest items in my show are the wigs, beards and costume pieces that I wear and put on the volunteers.
Us: What do you aspire to? Where do you see your career going in the next 20 years?
Tony: I was bullied as a child, and now present an anti-bullying show that combines magic and storytelling. WonderWorks and I are working on efforts to bring school groups to the theater so that I can present this show and help children cope with bullying. I’m also an author and spend much of my free time writing. I recently released a children’s science fiction book called “Tales of the Triangle” about a family that travels through the Bermuda Triangle and acquires amazing powers. I’m currently working on a book called “Big Foot” in which a boy, who has bullied another boy about the size of his feet, turns into Big Foot.
Us: Any good stories about interacting with British guests?
Tony: My family tree dates back to England to the town of Halliwell, near Manchester. My British friends say I have a British sense of humor. I’ve had countless funny experiences bantering with British guests who were on stage with me. I also sometimes perform an impression of the famous Welsh comedian and magician, Tommy Cooper. The Americans don’t get it but the guests from the U.K. do.
Tony’s show is slightly manic, belly-busting funny, and entirely engaging. The setting is intimate, audience interaction is integral to the experience, and when he performs those card manipulations he mentioned, guests cannot fail to be wow-ed. Simon was lucky enough to be chosen to participate in one of Tony’s card illusions several years ago, choosing a card early in the show and making a special mark on it to identify it as his, with the promise that all would be revealed at the end of the show. We whispered to each other over our pizza and salad, saying, “He’s never going to find that card again.” We were wrong, of course, and to this day that card—with Simon’s pet name for Susan written on it—sits in our china cabinet.
Go see Tony and the Outta Control Magic Comedy Dinner Show. It’s pure magic!
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