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Kupanaha unveils tribute to hall of fame magicians

By Staff | Jun 23, 2011

Jody Baran and his wife, Kathleen, recently unveiled a new Kupanaha show at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel.

KAANAPALI — It’s been ten years since world-renowned, award-winning magician Jody Baran and his wife, Kathleen, started Kupanaha at the Kaanapali Beach Hotel.

According to Jody, Kupanaha means “marvelously amazing, incredibly wonderful, extraordinarily surprising and simply astonishing.” It is a unique magic show/dinner theater event that blends Hawaiian culture and dance.

Four years in the making, his new show is inspired by illusions from some of the most famous past magicians who visited Hawaii. These include Houdini, Long Tack Sam, Howard Thurston, Raymondo, The Great Nicola, Dante and Charles Carter.

Jody, who started in magic when he was ten years old, is a student of the history of magic, particularly in Hawaii. The show consists of a smorgasbord of amusing tricks, very nice Hawaiian and Tahitian dancing, audience participation and jaw-dropping illusions.

The show begins before the audience is brought into the theater. Close up magician Holden Mowat performs some engaging tricks with ropes and rings to the amusement of the assembled guests. Mowat also performs at each table prior to the start of the Barans’ appearances, while a very good, three-course meal is being served. At my table, visitors from Texas and Wisconsin enjoyed trying to guess where the balls were in an interesting variation on the old ball-under-the-cup trick.

Mowat made the ball appear and disappear, seemingly at will. He revealed it to be wherever the visitors didn’t guess — his hand, his pocket or under a cup. At the conclusion of the act, he mysteriously conjured a very large, psychedelic-like ball. He performed a different act at each table.

When Jody came on, he did a series of charming actions conjuring white doves. His first historical tribute was, surprisingly, to the most well-known of them all, Harry Houdini. Jody performed Houdini’s escape from the straight jacket before the audience in under a minute!

Every magician needs an assistant, and Jody is blessed to have the beautiful and talented Kathleen, whose theater and dance background serve the act well. She is the one who disappears and appears, and is seemingly dismembered, folded, spindled and mutilated — all for the benefit of the audience.

With the exception of the straight jacket, all of Jody’s tribute acts involve a contraption that Kathleen gets into while her body is going elsewhere, but her head is mostly still visible. These are highly entertaining illusions actually, designed and manufactured here on Maui by master props and illusion maker Roger Capps. He has been working exclusively for the Barans for more than 16 years.

The Kaanapali Beach Hotel prides itself on being “Hawaii’s most Hawaiian hotel,” so it’s not surprising that the hula performers are quite good, and the audience, which at my performance had a generous number of Maui people as well as visitors, was treated to some excellent Hula `Auana (the dance as it evolved in the 19th and 20th centuries accompanied by song and Western-influenced musical instruments), Hula Ai Kahiko (those hula written in the 20th and 21st centuries that follow the stylistic protocols of the ancient hula kahiko) and Tahitian dance. The dances were choreographed by Kumu Hula Iokepa Cabanilla-Aricayos.

While the complex illusions involving disappearing and reappearing are great fun and quite astonishing, my personal favorites were two pieces that involved audience members. In one Jody obtains a watch from an unsuspecting guest and proceeds to smash it, make it disappear and reappear in a can within two locked boxes suspended above the stage.

In the other, he involves an audience member in a complex charade involving an imaginary deck of cards, which he has the guest shuffle and cut. Jody then asks another audience member to pull the card from the imaginary deck, place it back in the deck face down so it is the only card showing. He then proceeds to open an oversized deck of cards and pulls the card that the guest imagined. It’s a great trick.

Of course, of all the complex illusions Baran and Kathleen perform, the most crowd pleasing and confounding had to be his tribute to the great Charles Carter. Rather than sawing Kathleen in half, Baran used giant blades and swords that he shoved into the box. He then separated the box, and all the time two audience members had hold of leather straps that were affixed to Kathleen’s neck and feet.

I also loved their Hana Hou. In this one, Kathleen is placed into a printing press, and Jody cranks the wheel as a printout of her simultaneously comes out the other end.

It’s a great finish to a wonderful show that is fun for the whole family. Go and enjoy. You will not be disappointed. Call 661-0011 or go to www.kupanaha.com for information and reservations.