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He’s not your everyday illusionist, and a chewed-up Life Saver is proof

Joan Marcus

Dan Sperry calls himself the “Anti-Conjurer.”

By James Sullivan Globe Correspondent 

You can’t get into the Magic Castle unless you’re invited. Even then, you might not get in: The entrance through the front lobby, which is designed like a library, is behind a trick bookcase.

The Magic Castle, home of the Academy of Magical Arts in Los Angeles, a five-minute walk from the Hollywood Walk of Fame, is a private club, open only to members and their guests.

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“It’s kind of like the Wonka factory” — you need a golden ticket to get in — explains Dan Sperry, who, at 17, became the youngest performer to headline the club’s mainstage.

Sperry first appeared at the Magic Castle in 2002, but he earned another golden ticket eight years later, when he was invited to compete on “America’s Got Talent.” The illusion that floored the judges, which involved a chewed Life Saver candy and a length of dental floss, made Sperry a celebrity to the legions of average Americans who will never get closer to the Magic Castle than their tour-bus stop at the Walk of Fame.

Sperry might get his own star there someday. In the meantime, he’s bringing his act as the Anti-Conjurer to your backyard, as one of the seven performers on “The Illusionists,” the touring version of the hit Broadway magic show. The show runs Tuesdaythrough Sunday at the Boston Opera House.

Each member of the cast has a distinct identity. There’s the Inventor, Kevin James, whose own greatest hit, also performed on “AGT,” involves a few new wrinkles in the old sawing-a-man-in-half routine. There’s the Deductionist, Colin Cloud, the breakout act of the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a “forensic mind reader” who can look at your nails and tell you your ATM password. The Escapologist, Andrew Basso, specializes in getting out of tight situations, much like his hero, Harry Houdini.

Sperry, a ghoulish, Gothic-makeup product of the wholesome state of Minnesota, prides himself on presenting an irreverent brand of prestidigitation. That’s why he bills himself as the “Anti-Conjurer.”

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Image-wise, he’s invariably compared to the theatrical rock star Marilyn Manson. But he grew up on other influences, he says.

He saw “Interview With the Vampire” at a young, impressionable age and soon started seeking out “old German expressionism” — “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari,” “Nosferatu.” Such films taught him an emotion that he would later hope to instill in his audiences.

“I remember that sense of uneasiness,” he says. “Morbid curiosity, I guess.”

Sperry makes playing cards spin in mid-air, and he reverts chewed sticks of gum to their store-bought shape. He makes birds change color, and change into young women.

But he started, as do most amateur magicians, with simple sleight of hand.

He took his tricks to school for show and tell. In third grade, he brought in a box that made dice disappear.

“My classmates were impressed,” he says. “I made them go on an Easter egg hunt to find the missing die. I knew I could pull it out of my pocket, out of a hat, anywhere I wanted.” There was something else he was sure of: “I knew I could eat up time, so we were not going to have to sit there and learn multiplication.”

His reputation grew after his initial Magic Castle showcase, and Sperry moved to the show capital of the world, Las Vegas. Next he created a solo off-Broadway show in the heart of the Times Square theater district; he was also hired to develop special stage effects for the band Jane’s Addiction. For the past five years he’s been touring the world with “The Illusionists.”

The experience has been very much like running off to join the circus, he says. (In fact, Kevin James, the Inventor, claims that he’s related to P.T. Barnum.) The high-tech show runs nonstop, often with multiple acts onstage at once, in a kind of razzle-dazzle choreography.

People often ask whether there are rivalries among the performers. According to Sperry, no.

“We are all so different — that’s what makes it work,” he says. “We all just want to put on a good show.”

By now, he has amassed a huge fan club, known as the “Abricabastards.” They’re people from all generations, all walks of life. Their sole common denominator: They’re all eager to be entertained.

No matter how often he meets and greets his fans, he’s always amazed at how many want to show him the tattoos he’s inspired.

“It’s like, whoa, I’m just doing magic tricks here,” he says with a chuckle.

But he’s just as committed to commanding the attention of his more casual fans, many of whom only know him for the Life Saver trick. For those fans, he has just one question.

“You do know I got other stuff, right?”

The Illusionists

Presented by Broadway in Boston. At the Boston Opera House, April 4-9. Tickets start at $44, 800-982-2787, www.BroadwayinBoston.com.


James Sullivan can be reached at jamesgsullivan@
gmail.com

Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.