Steve Kradolfer asked an audience member to pick a song from a book of sheet music as Joel Acevedo sat blindfolded at a baby grand piano. Neither magician nor the audience knew what song was chosen, but once Acevedo began to play “Amazing Grace,” the audience member began to nod her head enthusiastically and the room erupted in applause. He had guessed her song, or in the magicians’ words, “read her mind.”
“We’re here to help you break through the shells of the hyper-rational adult mind,” Acevedo said earlier in the evening. “Let your inner child out.”
One Saturday night at the end of March, an audience of 50 watched as Acevedo and Kradolfer performed mind-bending tricks for 2½ hours. It was another installment of their comedy-magic show, Four-Handed Illusions, now in its ninth season. Kradolfer, who lives in Milford, is a full-time performer, while Acevedo of Billerica has a day job as an engineer at MIT. They returned to performing in September 2021 after an 18-month hiatus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shows are held about five times per month in the Library of the Hampshire House, the building that also housed the bar that inspired the TV show “Cheers.” The dress code is cocktail attire with jackets required, and a pre-show reception features charcuterie and drinks from the historic mansion’s Baker Bar. General admission tickets for the evening start at $85.
When I attended the late March performance, I saw well-dressed audience members engrossed in the magic and laughing at every joke; I right along with them. There were stunned silences, audible gasps, and loud applause at the most confounding of tricks.
Nikki Ritchson and William Cristo, a couple who came to the show from Worcester, were seeking a new experience. They had seen magicians like Penn & Teller on television and had hoped they’d get a similar experience close to home. “I thought it would be nice to see [magic] in a local, small, intimate venue,” Ritchson said. After the show, she said she was pleased with the experience. “Particularly the comedy!”
Susannah Voigt and her husband, George, of North Andover, had received tickets as a Christmas gift and had a similar reaction. “We’re loving the comedy element to it,” Voigt said, adding that they appreciated the show’s more intimate and low-key than what one might see on TV.
Both performers got their magical starts at young ages. Kradolfer said he was 5 or 6, visiting family in Amsterdam, when he encountered a relative performing magic tricks at a party for his grandparents. Kradolfer followed him around a banquet hall, watching him repeat the same two tricks for all the tables in the room. The relative spoke Dutch, but the language barrier didn’t matter. The relative then taught the tricks to Kradolfer’s father so that he could pass them on to Kradolfer. “He saw that I was hooked,” Kradolfer said. “It was game over. I was in.”
Acevedo picked up his interest by watching a magician on TV as a child. “I was completely taken by what he did, and I started learning what I could,” he said. His father, a musician, used to travel for work and would bring magic books home for Acevedo. Decades later, one of the magicians Acevedo took lessons from was the same TV magician who inspired him.
When Acevedo moved to the Boston area from Puerto Rico in 2008, he started checking out the magic scene and discovered Kradolfer. “I immediately became a fan of his,” Acevedo said. “I’d seen magic in Europe and the United States, of course, and my native Puerto Rico, and immediately he stood out as one of the best in his category. My first impression was ‘How is this guy not in Vegas?’”
Acevedo continued going to Kradolfer’s performances, and eventually the two became friends and Acevedo tried out his tricks on Kradolfer. Impressed, Kradolfer helped to get Acevedo performing on the same stages as him.
About three years after they met, Acevedo proposed an idea to Kradolfer: a two-person magic show that is classy, comedic, and confounding. Acevedo said the private clubhouse in Los Angeles called the Magic Castle served as inspiration, and they wanted to find a venue in Boston that is refined and cozy. And thus, Four-Handed Illusions was born.
“It all came from the realization that there was nowhere in Boston to see this style of magic,” Acevedo said. “Magic is meant to be experienced in person. People are used to seeing magic on TV, but it’s nothing like what it is when you experience it in real life.”
The name alludes to four-handed duet pieces played by two people on the same piano, pulling from Acevedo’s musical experience. He was hoping that showgoers would get the reference. “But nobody does!” he said with a laugh.
Acevedo and Kradolfer said they are always working on new material and improvising much of the show’s comedy. They want their audience “to laugh from beginning to end and to be amazed like they’ve never been amazed before,” Acevedo said.
Magic, Comedy & Cocktails: Four-Handed Illusions, July 9, 16, 23 at 8 p.m., July 15, 22, 7:30 p.m., Hampshire House, tickets from $85, fourhandedillusions.com/tickets
Kellyn B. Eaddy is a freelance writer and graduate student based in Somerville.