There were only a couple of tricks that Houdini was afraid to perform because of the danger. These tricks involved the potential for death, such as the infamous bullet catch and swallowing a series of needles. Howard Blackwell does them both, and more, for Piccolo Spoleto.

Blackwell is an illusionist from Tennessee who has been practicing magic since he was 14. He's performing at the Threshold Repertory Theatre in a show called Voix de Ville with modern twists on the well-established illusions and mental effects.

His routine was filled with familiar tricks, many of which were taken from master magician Houdini. A fair portion of the night was even dedicated to storytelling as Blackwell related information about the history of voix de ville and stage magicians.

Blackwell got off to a rocky start when his first trick, the classic cutting a woman in half, didn't go as planned and the crowd caught a glimpse of the gears, ruining the illusion. He was quick to recover once he noticed the mistake, which he covered with a light joke.

The sold-out show included enough audience participation to ensure that everyone had a good time. Once Blackwell hit his stride, the tricks came one after another without a hitch.

The humor of the night was good-natured and featured certain mature references that kept the adults entertained while the children were left captivated by the props and Blackwell's stage presence.

A handful of mental tricks also were offered, such as pre-written "guesses" hidden in locked boxes that resulted in a unanimous "How did he do that?"

While none of the audience members fainted from Blackwell's performance - a regular occurrence for Houdini - it was still a fun night for everyone. There's one more chance to see the illusionist perform: 7 p.m. June 3.

Nicholas Schmiedicker is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.

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