Frank Marshall is a renowned and respected producer/director who was awarded the Irving J. Thalberg Award with his wife and partner Kathleen Kennedy in 2018 for their dedication to pursuing the highest aim of film in their body of work. Includes everything from the “Raiders of the Lost Ark” franchise, to Oscar-nominated films “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” Seabiscuit,” “The Sixth Sense,” and “The Color Purple.”
Helder Guimaraes is a Portuguese-born actor and magician whose one-man shows have broken records worldwide, noted for their skillful blending of close up magic and story-driven narrative. Named World Champion of Magic, he has participated in everything from TED talks, off-Broadway productions to training Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock for their card shark roles in the movie “Ocean’s 8”.
The odds that these two men would ever meet were more than a long shot. But meet they did through the ‘matchmaking’ skills of Special Effects wizard Bill Taylor, himself an amateur magician; the result of that promising first date led to a brilliant collaboration that produced the unique immersive magic experience “Invisible Tango” which is currently selling out nightly at Westwood’s Geffen Playhouse.
The underlying theme of the show is “everything happens for a reason,” and both Marshall and Guimaraes agree that is definitely true in their case.
Despite their different upbringings (Guimaraes in Miragaia, Porto in Portugal, Marshall in Glendale, California then Newport Beach in the O.C.) the two men share a lifelong love of close-up magic.
Marshall recalls his first foray into magic as a school performance where he did a few simple magic tricks that opened up his eyes to possibilities. “I realized even then that magic had a power to surprise, entertain, and also to enlighten,” he says. Neighborhood birthday parties and school talent shows followed. Frank practiced amateur magic well into his teens until he encountered drama classes and the track team, both areas in which he excelled. He ultimately ended up as an engineering major at UCLA but graduated with a B.A. in Political Science, envisioning perhaps a legal career. But the muse had gripped him, and he found himself always drawn back to the love of performing. He credits his high school drama teacher Robert Wentz with giving him the belief that he had a career in the arts – not as an actor but as a director where he could use his instincts to guide people.
Guimaraes was exposed to magic at the tender age of four by his father, who was himself an amateur magician. Young Helder was frightened by a statue, and his father taught him to use “magic” to overcome his fear. When his kindergarten class invited his father to entertain at the annual Christmas Party, Helder was brought into the act to participate in a couple of tricks. He wore the cape and hat and was soon hooked on magic. By age 12, his goal wanted to be a magician but could one make a living at it? He wasn’t sure if it was within his reach, because of Portugal no tradition of magic in performance. So he traveled to neighboring Spain where he found magician communities to study with and gain opportunities to perform. By age 17, he knew he could have a successful career – but it would have to be on an international scale to make it worth leaving behind the family, friends, and country he loved. So he finished college graduating with a Theatre degree and then set off to establish himself on the world stage, developing a hybrid of magic and theatre that was uniquely his. The win in 2006 as Champion of Magic was the first award for Portugal, and that was profoundly satisfying to him. Tours in Japan and the USA soon followed, and he was off and running.
His first immersive experience was “Borrowed Time” which sold out every night. His show “Nothing to Hide” directed by Neil Patrick Harris was one of the most popular productions at the Geffen and his off-Broadway show “Verso” was directed by renowned Portuguese actor/director Rodrigo Santos. When the Geffen approached him about doing another show for them, Guimaraes had an idea that had been forming in his mind for five years. “I knew what I wanted to do, but I wanted to make sure the story would be told in the best possible way, not disruptive of the magic and vice versa.” While a brilliant performer, he wasn’t as comfortable creating in English as a second language. He would need to find someone to help him shape the vision he had and when he mentioned the show to his friend Bill Taylor, himself a respected visual/special effects artist known for his work on “Serenity,” “The Bourne Identity” and “The Fog.” When he heard that Guimaraes was seeking an experienced helmsman to guide the process, Taylor immediately thought of his old friend Marshall.
“I told Bill that I needed a director who loved magic, understood the milieu, that magic exists at the moment,” he recalls. “When he mentioned Frank, I thought he would probably be too busy, perhaps not interested in the small show, so I was not hopeful that it would happen, you know?”
A meeting at Marshall’s office a few weeks later started off as a get-to-know-you and ended 30 minutes later with “Let’s do this!” and a handshake. While both men were aware of the other, they really didn’t know each other; but as previously noted, “everything happens for a reason.” The production was enhanced by “an amazing team of people, a truly collaborative family” that worked on the set (Francois-Pierre Couture), lights (Elizabeth Harper), sound (Alex Hawthorn) and original music (Moby!) as well as Dramaturg Amy Levinson.
Another area on which both Marshall and Guimaraes agreed was the fundamental belief that without magic, the world can be a soulless place. “We have a need as a people to believe in something greater than ourselves,” they say, “to be drawn to that place of mystery and unknowingness.”
One of the highlights of “Invisible Tango” is the opportunity an audience member has to use a golden key to unlock a box, wherein the mysteries lie, and learn how everything is done. According to Marshall, almost all have refused to take the offer, preferring instead to maintain the illusion. “The one woman who did open the box did so under heavy peer pressure,” he says. “She admitted she really didn’t want to know.”
Some things have a deeper resonance in the soul; instead of knowing everything, we often prefer to know little and dream big. That too happens for a reason – to remind us that there is another level to life that we cannot control, something that gives us a reason to consider our place in the unseen vastness of the universe. It is the “Invisible Tango” with the reality that gives life meaning. And that is pure magic, don’t you think..?
“Invisible Tango” continues at the Geffen Playhouse through June 30 although the show may be extended into July. For tickets and information, please visit www.geffenplayhouse.org.