Yesterday, March 24, was the birthdate Harry Houdini, master performer, global phenomenon, and expert at sleight-of-hand.
Richard Horn and Brent Lill are two modern-day Houdinis. They each specialize in a particular brand of magic: Horn is quietly mysterious, doing the impossible mere inches in front of participants; Lill is an energetic wizard who seemingly gets inside the head of his audience. But they both offer perfect prestidigitation.
Richard Horn (left) and Brent Lill (Right) with his wife
I start the interviews in a daring manner, by performing a trick for them, rather than vice versa. It's a very rudimentary find-the-card chestnut, and I'm understandably nervous about flubbing it. "This is like a first-year piano student playing Chopsticks for an audience of concert pianists," I say apologetically.
But it works, and I successfully find the chosen cards. With genuine curiosity, both Lill and Horn ask how it's done. And breaking the magician's code, I tell them.
Then it's onto the masters, and in both instances, I am soon watching rubber bands become porous enough to float in and out of each other. And experiencing a key that bends in the palm of my hand.
Horn's manual dexterity was an early skill. "My father, who was a bit of a disciplinarian, insisted I take piano lessons, starting at age seven. I initially hated them, but came to appreciate the skill." His music background shows in his hands, with long, tapered fingers that move with grace - and stunning quickness.
"I got good with cards by playing with friends as a teenager," Horn says. "Eventually, I got good enough to start counting cards, which made me very unpopular in casinos."
Horn took his magic fingers and quick mind elsewhere, and he broke into magic when his wife purchased a magic kit as a gift for a relative. He was instantly hooked. He still practices an average of 10 hours per day, and in honing his craft, he has performed some tricks as many as 100,000 times to get them just right.
The rehearsal has paid off: Horn pulls a wad of $1 bills from his pocket and in a blink, transforms them into $100s. Alas, with another flick, they're back to being singletons.
Horn's favorite venues are where he can do strolling magic, in which he walks among small groups at a reunion or corporate event amazing them with close-up bamboozles. He also likes what is called "parlor magic." He explains: "Parlor magic is where I'm in front of a small group like at an adult's birthday party or a bridal shower. I can bring in a small table, and that opens up a lot more possibilities for illusions. You can conceal an awful lot in a small table," he admits, with a wry smile.
There is nothing small about Brent Lill; he arrives bedecked in a vest of patchwork question marks and a ready assistant - beautiful wife Crystal Lynn - on his arm. Before long, spongy balls are reproducing themselves at an alarming rate in my own hand, cards are identified (even when the number and suit are chosen by two different people) and a poker chip ends up beneath my wristwatch.
Lill's inspiration were two uncles, who he characterizes as "jokesters and pranksters." One specialized in yanking a pencil from his nose, and the other used a telephone call to ID a randomly selected playing card. But it was the disappearance of a quarter in a puff of smoke that truly sparked his interest in magic. At eight years old, after watching the coin evaporate, Lill "...dragged my dad to the nearest magic shop and bought sponge balls, a trick that is still in my act."
Crystal Lynn's specialty is quick change, but Lill helps her work her stunning feats of fabric. "I sew all her costumes," he admits. The pair is comfortable in multiple settings and with audiences of a wide range of ages. But Lill admits that the 10-12 year olds are a tough crowd. "They think they know it all," he laughs, "and are more interested in catching you at something than enjoying the mystery."
Probing audience minds is a favorite aspect of Lill's performance. In one of a series of illusions he calls "Mindjacking," Lill reaches into my mind to re-draw a simple sketch I scribbled on the back of one of his business cards.
Each has their own style of "Montco magic." But both can make smiles appear out of nowhere.
And speaking of tricks, it's no illusion that comfortable rooms in Montgomery County are plentiful, ensuring wondrous overnights for you and your guests and families. Abracadabra! Check our website for recommendations.