Billl Nuvo Houdini

In the world of magic, few names are as iconic as Harry Houdini. The legendary escape artist’s feats of daring and illusion have captivated audiences for over a century. Now, Windsor-based magician and comedian Bill Nuvo is set to pay tribute to Houdini’s legacy with his newest show, “Out of the Box,” coming to the Windsor Comedy Club on March 24.

Nuvo, who has been performing magic for over 40 years, decided it was time to dedicate an entire show to the art of escape. “I’ve done many escapes over my 40+ years of performing as part of my shows,” he explains. “I decided, why not do a whole show of escapes. I call it ‘Out of the Box’ as a play on words. Typically, a lot of big magic tricks happen in boxes. Escape artists like Houdini have escaped from boxes. I have as well in the past. I wanted to go past using a box, so I literally had to think ‘outside of the box’ to come up with ways of doing some escapes another way. It’s also a nod to my punny sense of humour sometimes.”

 

Houdini’s rise to fame began in the late 19th century, when he started performing escape acts in vaudeville shows. His unique blend of physical prowess, showmanship, and ingenious illusions quickly set him apart from other performers. Houdini’s most famous feats included escaping from handcuffs, chains, and locked trunks, as well as the dramatic “Water Torture Cell” escape, in which he was suspended upside down in a locked glass cabinet filled with water.

Beyond his incredible talent as an escape artist, Houdini was also known for his charismatic personality and his ability to generate publicity. He often staged his escapes in public places, inviting local law enforcement to restrain him and drawing large crowds to witness his feats. Tragically, Houdini’s life was cut short on Halloween in 1926 at the age of 52, when he died from peritonitis in Detroit, Michigan. The proximity of his death to Windsor, where Bill Nuvo’s tribute show will be held, adds a poignant note to the performance.

“Out of The Box” promises to be a unique blend of magic, comedy, and homage to Houdini. Nuvo’s jovial nature and quick wit are sure to keep audiences laughing throughout the performance. “The real question is how could I not?” he quips when asked about blending comedy with magic. “Seriously, I’m a jovial kinda guy and certain situations just lend themselves to comedic bits. Also… Magic and comedy go hand in hand when you think about it. It’s all about the surprise, whether it be a punchline or an unexpected appearance, the response is laughter.”

One of the standout illusions in “Out of the Box” involves a creative twist on the classic escape from a box. “Well, one of the big ones is unique,” Nuvo reveals. “I had to use something that people would recognize, instead of a box. I decided to use garbage cans! I get put into a garbage can and another garbage can is placed mouth down on top. The two cans are chained together. There are two holes in the upper can and I stick my arms out through them. My wrists are then restrained with a leather asylum strap. I then attempt to get out.”

Houdini’s enduring legacy in the world of magic is something that Nuvo deeply respects and aims to capture in his performance. “He was such a showman that his name has just lived on for a long time, and a lot of the things about him are now stuff of legends,” Nuvo says. “A lot of what people think they know about Houdini is often embellishments. There can be grains of truth in there, but as they say ‘when you had to choose between history and legend, print the legend.’ Legends last.”

Preparing for a show that combines intricate illusions and physical comedy is no easy feat, but Nuvo has a secret weapon: “Coffee and overgrown nose hairs that tickle your nostrils,” he jokes.

One of Houdini’s most famous escapes, the straitjacket, will be featured in Nuvo’s show, with a personal twist. “It’s been a feature of my regular show for over 20 years,” he says. “I spice mine up a bit by also adding being tied up in 50ft of rope at the same time. Of course, due to my nature, I have lots of comedy bits during the 10-minute routine as well. Crotch strap anyone?”

Throughout “Out of the Box,” Nuvo aims to educate his audience about Houdini’s life and career while entertaining them with his own unique brand of magic and humor. “Early on in Houdini’s career he billed himself as ‘King of Cards’, so I do a card routine, that is also a type of escape, while also mentioning one of his legends,” he reveals. “I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a cool effect…if I do say so myself.”

As he prepares for the show, Nuvo reflects on how the master escape artist might have evolved his act in the modern era. “I think what made Houdini great was the simplicity in a lot of his routines,” he muses. “What you saw is what you got. It wasn’t flashy. It was direct. I think he would still be doing it like that. Yes he would do big escapes, but at their core they would remain straightforward. I think he would be doing things like Dean Gunnarson (a great Canadian escape artist…check him out).”

One of the most challenging illusions Nuvo has mastered for this tribute involves a daring escape from a pair of garbage cans. “During the escape I have to pick a lock on the outside of the can that I can’t see,” he reveals. “It’s completely done using my sense of touch.”

For Nuvo, the most rewarding aspect of performing magic and comedy live is the connection it allows him to forge with his audience. “In my everyday life I am not a social butterfly and am quite introverted,” he admits. “Performing allows me to show another side of myself that is quite strikingly different.”

To keep his performances fresh and exciting for returning audiences, Nuvo focuses on the power of performance and connection. “My philosophy on magic is that a good performance is key. Connecting with an audience. The tricks are just tools, special effects if you will,” he explains. “Just like a musician, if you create something that your audience connects with, they will come back again and again to see their favourites. I don’t find I need to always do new tricks. I just tweak routines to make them better. Maybe I add a new line that I ad-libbed at a previous show that got a reaction so then it now becomes part of the act. In the end, I find people come back to see me and not just a trick.”

Audience participation plays a crucial role in Nuvo’s show, with volunteers helping to lock him up in various routines. “It keeps me fair and honest, and that also helps with some of the improvised moments of comedy,” he says.

Nuvo’s experience as a character actor has also influenced his approach to magic. “I did take improv classes from Cristina Calamita-Orlando that has helped me in my journey into the acting realm,” he shares. “That in turn I’ve used to fine tune my performances on stage as a magician. I’ve learned to push a little more, to use bigger movements, for example, to get more laughs.”

As a multifaceted performer in the Windsor arts scene, Nuvo sees magic as a unique and valuable contribution to the local cultural landscape. “Magic is a performance art. It’s unique in that world though, as its skill is often hidden (the secret). So you applaud for what you don’t see,” he explains. “Being part of the performing arts scene here in Windsor (musician, Djing, acting, dancing, singing, magic, juggling, puppetry, comedy) I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with a wide range of other performers who have been most welcoming. We learn from each other, and in turn are able to share that wide diversity of expression to audiences who get a more fully enriched experience.”

To showcase this connection with other local performers, Nuvo has invited friends from the musical “Guys and Dolls” to open for him as the music duo “Silk Echos.”

In the end, Nuvo hopes that audiences will leave his tribute to Houdini having experienced something unique and having had a great time. Even when the unexpected happens, as it did when a rope accidentally wrapped around his neck during a straitjacket escape, Nuvo’s humility and professionalism shine through. “Sometimes you just have to be humble and ask for a little help and then press on,” he says.

Don’t miss your chance to witness Bill Nuvo’s “Out of the Box” tribute to the legendary Harry Houdini at the Windsor Comedy Club on March 24th at 4:30 PM. Tickets are just $20 for an unforgettable evening of magic, comedy, and homage to one of the greatest escape artists of all time. Head to 89 University Ave West, Windsor, Ontario, and prepare to be amazed!

 

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