Jonathan Levey may be able to escape from handcuffs and thumb cuffs, but his most impressive accomplishment is “unlocking people’s spirit of playfulness, which is the essence of what I do,” he says.
“Life is tough and stressful, and they can easily get farther away from their playful self. I enjoy helping them tap into it.”
He does this with three shows at which he is equally talented: the silent mime and magic of Max & Maxine, the mind-bending Jonathan’s Mysteries of the Mind, and a family show as Monsieur Magic geared to both youngsters and their adult relatives. Each is endowed with a good dose of respectful comedy.
He learned about the lighter side of life from his father as a four-year-old when asked his opinion of a chef skit his dad was rehearsing in his Stuyvesant Town, Manhattan apartment.
Levey was as delighted to be consulted as are his current younger audiences, who are requested to help him make a rainbow out of magical scarves or chant the magic words over a silver ball so that it will hover in mid-air.
“I try not to have the kids screaming magic words – it’s the decibels! I have them whisper abracadabra and wiggle their fingers instead,” says Levey, ever considerate of his adult onlookers.
Adults will attest to his effectiveness in more sophisticated shows, as well. The Côte St. Luc council recently engaged him to entertain at one of its municipal functions and McGill University’s engineering department got him on board for a staff appreciation party.
For weddings he teams up with wife Monique, the Maxine of the duo, and wanders into the cocktail crowds doing silent tricks and table magic. “I do my magic speaking, if people wish, bringing things into the show that I see and observe on the spot,” he says, often choosing participants intuitively.
For the very young, he manipulates soft ventriloquist’s puppets crafted by the famed Mary Ann Taylor. These create hilarity when they are blindfolded and intuit the number of fingers a volunteer holds up.
“I find the funny bone in everyone, making it experiential so they feel they’ve had a fun time,” he says.
Levey found his public persona as a graduate student. Following his first degree in cinema, photography and anthropology at Ithaca College, he turned to social work at McGill in 1984.
He paid his tuition by busking, notably on Prince Arthur Street, where he learned from a fellow busker the skill of lifting possessions such as watches and returning them to the astonished owners who never noticed them missing.
He incorporates the stunt in his acts today, making it comic by planting the goods on another unsuspecting audience member and retrieving it from them while music from Dragnet signals the “discovery.”
His busking days led to professional gigs, and he and Monique opened the Montreal Casino as the warm-up act and were longtime favourites at Ruby Foo’s and its restaurants.
These days he augments parties for all ages with community centre entertainment and corporate shows where he dazzles onlookers by remembering, by name, more than 50 individuals in attendance.
At trade show booths, he makes products memorable, and in his Mysteries of the Mind show, he baffles audiences with his ability to draw the same object pencilled in secret by a volunteer, for example.
“A lot of it is reading body language. I use what’s called jazz magic or jazz mentalism, where you are picking up on the nuances of people, their expressions, their micro-expressions. And I weave what they’re saying into the presentation to make it fresh,” he says.
Levey is currently taking his act into the domain of health, building a workshop for those who want to de-stress with magic, “like a retreat without going up to the Laurentians.”