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Illusionist Leon Etienne Thrills Adirondacks Tourists And Residents

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In many summer towns, you can see a special act that entertains locals and visitors alike - like B.J. Leiderman, who does our theme music. One illusionist in the Adirondacks tries to dazzle with leather and '70s rock.

North Country Public Radio's Monica Sandreczki has this story.

(SOUNDBITE OF EUROPE SONG, "THE FINAL COUNTDOWN")

MONICA SANDRECZKI, BYLINE: Leon Etienne loves two things - magic and hard rock.

LEON ETIENNE: The way I try to describe what I try to do is if Van Halen and David Copperfield had a baby. That's what you get. So you get, like, a rock show with magic in it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE FINAL COUNTDOWN")

EUROPE: (Singing) It's the final countdown.

SANDRECZKI: Backstage at a small theater in the Adirondack Mountains in northern New York, Leon sports a mohawk and a Metallica T-shirt and double-checks his deck of cards.

(SOUNDBITE OF CARDS SHUFFLING)

SANDRECZKI: Leon caught the magic bug as a 'tween. He was grounded and bored. He dug up an old magic kit from his grandma and learned his first trick - rip up a card, put it in an envelope.

(SOUNDBITE OF FINGERS SNAPPING)

SANDRECZKI: It's back together. His mom completely forgot why she grounded him.

ETIENNE: I showed it to her, and I watched her mind just melt in front of me.

SANDRECZKI: Man, this is it, he thought. There was something transcendent about it. He mastered the classics, joined a circus, learned how to wrestle out of a straitjacket upside down and bought secondhand magic tricks.

ETIENNE: My first illusion ever - like, illusion, which is not a card trick - you know, we're talking something big. It was a box that makes a woman appear. It came off of a Carnival cruise ship. And it was designed to look like a jewelry box. So it was pink. It had jewels glued all over it, to the plexiglass. I had learn how to paint, learn how to sand, buff aluminum, which, like, haunts me to this day.

SANDRECZKI: Then came the hard rock. That clicked when he got tickets to the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. You know. It's an orchestra but with electric guitars, fire, fog machines, a lot of leather. Well, he heard orchestra and thought classical music.

ETIENNE: We're wearing a shirt and a tie. Then they strike that first musical note at the top of the show. I'm like, holy crap, this is not what we thought it was going to be. That was right when, like, I first thought of "Magic Rocks!," like that title for a show.

SANDRECZKI: Later, he met his now assistant, Chelsea LaCongo, performing on the same cruise ship and auditioned her.

CHELSEA LACONGO: He was secretly testing me. So he brought this illusion out, and he's like, oh, this is one of my favorite illusions. You want to try to get in it? And I was like, I can try (laughter). And I got in. And I was like, oh, I got to get out of this thing. (Laughter) And I couldn't figure out how to get out. So I was so nervous and so scared. But now I'm jumping in and out of boxes all over.

SANDRECZKI: Oh, speaking of which, the show is about to start.

Chelsea wheels out the box of illusions.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHEELS ROLLING)

SANDRECZKI: They double-check the setup.

ETIENNE: The set - sawing is good for you?

SANDRECZKI: And backstage, Leon tosses three cards in the air for good luck.

ETIENNE: If I catch one, two, three, it's going to be a good show.

LACONGO: (Laughter).

ETIENNE: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THUNDERSTRUCK")

AC/DC: (Singing) Thunder.

SANDRECZKI: He saws Chelsea in half, jokes with the audience and flips cards doing wicked good sleight of hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THUNDERSTRUCK")

AC/DC: (Singing) You've been thunderstruck - thunderstruck.

SANDRECZKI: Out in the lobby...

LACONGO: You have two fans out there that want to say hi to you.

ETIENNE: OK. Tell them I'll be out there in 30 seconds.

SANDRECZKI: Next-generation magic mega fan Carly Exton is waiting to see him with her mom.

Do you have a favorite trick that he does?

CARLY EXTON: I like the one that he cuts the girl in the box.

SANDRECZKI: Have you ever thought about doing magic tricks yourself?

EXTON: Yeah. It's just so cool.

SANDRECZKI: Sounds like she's headed on the same path as Leon.

For NPR News, I'm Monica Sandreczki in northern New York.

SIMON: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAZLOW'S "AZURE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.