David Copperfield

David Copperfield is one of the most celebrated and successful magicians ever. The legendary showman shares his love for a couple fellow scene stealers --Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly -- as well as some Broadway classics. David currently has a residency at the MGM resort in Las Vegas. (Hosted by Eric J. Lawrence)

1. Magic to Do -- Pippin (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
2. There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This -- Sweet Charity (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
3. Singing in the Rain -- Gene Kelly
4. All The Way -- Frank Sinatra
5. The Fools Who Dream – La La land (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

EJL: Hi, I’m Eric J. Lawrence and joining me is one of the most celebrated and successful magicians ever, David Copperfield. The legendary showman has a residency at the MGM resort in Las Vegas and he offers his expertise as a consultant on a number of films, but today we’re here to talk about music; specifically, five songs that have inspired him throughout his life, as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. David, thank you so much for joining us.

Copperfield: Thank you for having me.

EJL: What’s the first track you’ve got for us?

Copperfield: The first piece that I put down seems kind of like a cliché. “Magic to Do” is the name of the title.

EJL: (Laughter) Ok.

Copperfield: But is not a cliché because when I was a teenager I went to New York, having been a big fan of movie musicals. Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire musicals. So I was swept away with the – in quotes – “magic” that was… level of excellence that existed on-screen in those Hollywood musicals.

And then I went to New York and I saw a show called Pippin on Broadway. And when you think of Pippin, some people think it’s kind of a light, pastiche, kind of silly thing, but it wasn’t.

Stephen Schwartz wrote this amazing show that Bob Fosse turned into this very dangerous piece of theater that, when I saw it, I thought, “Wait a minute I could actually – it’s possible to have MGM musical-quality theater experience in a theater, as opposed to a movie theater.”

And I couldn’t believe it. And to see Ben Vereen on stage, manipulated, controlled, directly by Bob Fosse was really an amazing revelation for me that that could be so amazing.

*Song: Pippin - Magic to Do*

Copperfield: The first number was called “Magic to Do” and Jules Fisher, the lighting designer, designed these lighting cues with a whole bunch of floating hands on stage and then the actors would come through the smoke and start singing the song “Magic to Do.” And Ben Vereen pulled out a silk handkerchief on this totally empty stage and vanished it and it reappeared on the center of the stage and he grabbed that silk and he pulled the entire set, the whole set came out of the stage. And I just, you know, my life changed at that moment.

I thought well maybe you can do something as great as I was seeing in the movies on stage. And he was doing what I was able to do well which was magic so “Magic To Do” was a life changer for me.

EJL: That was “Magic to Do” from the musical Pippin. What’s the next track you got for us?

Copperfield: You know, I love kind of scoring my life, especially when I was a kid. I think I invented the mixtape.

EJL: (Laughter)

Copperfield: I would have mixtapes for every part of my day when I was a kid. To take a shower, I would have music to take a shower to, and music to wake up to, and a tape that kind of spirited me through happiness and sadness. And my shower music was from Sweet Charity – the original cast album of Sweet Charity, another Bob Fosse directed thing – called “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”. And I edited it just from the middle, after all the talk happened through the end and it would wake me up and make me smile and kind of energize me to pursue my dreams.

*Song: Sweet Charity - There’s Gotta Be Something Better than This*

EJL: How does that kind of entertainment – multi-genre, you’ve got music, you’ve got acting, you’ve got dancing – how does that sort of fit in to your vision as a stage musician?

Copperfield: Magic came very easy to me. I was very, very good at inventing magic and performing magic and it was kind of a no-brainer for me. I pretty much sucked at everything else, but magic I was good at and I was finding a way to – well, I needed to find a way to take what I did and express the same kind of emotions that I would have when I would see a movie or a Broadway show – how do I combine magic with all the things that could move the audience or teach them and inspire them, and I found that in Gene Kelly, the Fred Astaire movies.

And Gene Kelly would not just dance, he would be romantic and masculine and he would have problems and he would get the girl. And magic was the metaphor for me of his dancing – my magic was his dancing. I would study what was he doing and the whole Fosse connection was the same thing: it wasn’t just the magic on stage. It was the story and kind of the dark aspects of what I was saying. How do combine those things with magic to affect an audience in more than just the “wow” factor? So I found those solutions with cinema, I found that with Broadway.

EJL: That was Gwen Verdon, singing the original Broadway version of the song “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” from Sweet Charity, as selected by our guest, David Copperfield.

So speaking of Gene Kelly, the next track you got is a classic: “Singin’ in the Rain.”

Copperfield: Yeah, well what can you say? It’s pure joy, it really sweeps you into a whole other place. But it’s also technology, you know, where they place those puddles – you know, how deep were the puddles. I got to meet Stanley Donen, and Gene Kelly – on separate occasions, and, you know, had long discussions with them both about how they just backlit the rain, and all of the details, which totally relates to what I do. Everything I do is tons of detail that have to look totally effortless. So “Singin’ in the Rain” was kind of a combination of a lot of other songs from that particular movie – the Broadway ballet, the sweeping cloth that, you know, stays high in the air during the dance, and the feeling is right. And getting everything right is very, very hard – obviously – with that, and with magic. And I got a lot of inspiration from it.

EJL: Would you say that you’re much of a singer yourself?

Copperfield: I am a horrible singer, but I will tell you that when I sing, people disappear so it fits.

EJL: (Laughs)

*Song: Gene Kelly - Singin’ in the Rain*

EJL: From Gene Kelly, “Singin’ in the Rain” from 1952. What’s the next track you got for us?

Copperfield: I was a huge Sinatra fan, and a lot of my vignettes, my little theater pieces that I did with magic, combine Sinatra songs because he was such a big influence. And “All The Way” was one of the ones I did. I did “Come Fly With Me” – I mean many, many Sinatra songs was the soundtrack of a lot of my TV specials. Years later, amid all that, I made the airplane disappear and Frank Sinatra invited me to perform with him. I was afraid of if Frank would like what I did with his music, because I, you know, really did – to that point – maybe, four major pieces to Sinatra soundtracks. And Frank was very, very kind to me and very, very nice. And he takes me to a room, and he says, “The airplane. How’d you do it?”

EJL: (Laughs)

Copperfield: “How’d you make that airplane disappear?” And I said, “Well, Mr. Sinatra, you know, you’re such an important person in my life, and you’ve done so much, but I really don’t wanna spoil it for you. I really want to preserve the wonder.” “How you make the airplane disappear?”

So, I kind of weaseled my way out of, out of the room. I never told him, and a few weeks later I get a letter in the mail. I opened it very, very carefully, and it was a real beautiful thank you note from Mr. Sinatra and it was signed “From Francis Albert.” So it’s kind of a wonderful experience where I stuck to my guns. But, you know, I think he really didn’t want to know.

*Song: Frank Sinatra - All The Way*

EJL: That was Frank Sinatra with his classic “All the Way” – an Academy Award winner actually – from 1957, as selected by our guest, David Copperfield.

Well, moving from Vegas to a tribute to the city that’s our home base here at KCRW – something from La La Land.

Copperfield: For me, Damien Chazelle got it right, this particular song especially. Single camera shot, going around Emma Stone who did an amazing job, obviously, in the movie. But for me, it’s my same message, you know: making people dream, saluting people to dream, encouraging them to explore their limitless possibilities is what I do, that’s my role I think in life.

And magicians have done that for years: I mean, Georges Méliès, who was one of the fathers of modern cinema back in the day in “au théâtre Robert-Houdin,” made the movie A Trip to the Moon and you saw the rocketship going to the moon and blasting the face and you saw something impossible. And 60, 70 years later, we landed on the moon!

So, who knows if an artist’s vision inspires people to make it really happen. And I think that’s really true, you’ve had, you know, Elon Musk on this show. You know, he says comic books inspired him. And NASA scientists they say that Star Wars and Star Trek inspired them. So, I think my role is to make people dream, to make people see infinite possibilities and maybe inspire them to do something that could change the course of our life.

*Song: Emma Stone - Audition (The Fools Who Dream)*

EJL: Well David, I want to thank you so much for joining us here at KCRW.com.

Copperfield: Enjoyed it, and thank you for spending time.

EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online, go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.

Featured images courtesy of Emma Summerton