A day with El Mago Pop on Broadway: From the red carpet to behind the scenes

The Spanish illusionist debuts at the heart of US commercial theater in a milestone event that can mark a before and after in the career of an artist

Mago Pop
Antonio Díaz, El Mago Pop, poses last Monday in Times Square, New YorkJoana Toro
Raquel Vidales

It’s Sunday afternoon, August 20, on Broadway. New York is sweltering, but there are theater queues around every corner of this part of town where, concentrated in just a few streets, the biggest musicals of the day are showing: veteran hits like The Lion King, Chicago, Sweeney Todd, Hamilton and The Book of Mormon and more recent ones like Six, Some Like it Hot and Back to the Future.

But the red carpet rolled out at the entrance of the Barrymore is not for the premiere of a musical, but rather for a show that seems to have miraculously slipped in among these industry giants: it is the Broadway debut of the Catalan illusionist Antonio Díaz, known artistically as El Mago Pop: a milestone event that can mark a before and after in the career of an artist.

The stakes are high, so high, in fact, that many of Díaz’s friends have come all the way from Spain to support him in his great leap into the void. But there are also powerful Broadway producers and actors in the crowd, not to mention unforgiving critics and even Hollywood star Christian Slater. Finally, the lights go out and the show begins and there follows a series of stunts that prompt wild applause. When it’s all over, the magician weeps in front of a standing ovation. In the corridors at the exit, Slater offers his verdict: “Amazing!”

It has been a long road. Opening on Broadway is extremely difficult for a foreign production and much more so if it involves illusionism. Beyond the likes of David Copperfield, Doug Henning and the great Houdini, magic is not a common genre in this mecca of musicals. “It was impossible, but it happened,” said Díaz the next morning in a meeting with Spanish media, including EL PAÍS. This is not a casual comment. It is the motto that underpins the entire career of El Mago Pop. It is no coincidence that the show is titled Nothing is Impossible. For an hour and a quarter, the illusionist does his utmost to make the audience believe that the impossible is possible. Each illusion is impressive, with many special effects and a triumphant gesture when he pulls it off. Teleporting. Making things disappear or appear, including a helicopter on stage, in a minute and without a sound. Then there’s guessing cards. But, behind all this is the most impressive feat of all: a boy born 37 years ago in Badia del Vallès in the province of Barcelona, managing to triumph on Broadway. In other words, the magic of a story of a self-made man. How can such a tale not capture the collective imagination of a country built on dreams?

El Mago Pop greets his fans after his debut last Sunday at Broadway’s Barrymore Theatre.
El Mago Pop greets his fans after his debut last Sunday at Broadway’s Barrymore Theatre.R. V.

This backstory is one of the reasons for El Mago Pop’s success. Teleportation, making things disappear, card tricks — all of that has been done before. The illusions are important, but the execution and storytelling is what sets him apart. “It combines the right doses of surprise and emotion,” observed New York-based Spanish journalist and screenwriter Guillermo Fesser after the premiere. Díaz agrees: “I think big, but I try to take the solemnity out of magic and bring it closer to the people,” he says. “As if I were a neighbor who does extraordinary things. That’s the dream.” In his glowing review for The New York Times after the Broadway debut, Alexis Soloski describes Díaz as “a prestidigitator you could take home to mother.”

The truth is that walking with Díaz through the streets of Broadway is like walking with the boy next door who has just had his dream come true. He is “on a cloud” but the reality is that, while he looks like the boy next door and has not yet turned 40, he has been the owner of the Victòria theater in Barcelona since 2019 and has just bought another 2,800 seats in Branson as his base of operations in the U.S.

Branson is a sort of family version of Las Vegas. It has more than 50 theaters and more seats than Broadway. It’s in the state of Missouri at the heart of the U.S. and within reasonable distance from anywhere.

The other key to Díaz’s meteoric rise is commercial instinct, because, like it or not, artistic talent is not enough in the entertainment industry. While he was knocking on the doors of producers and theater owners to get his chance on the world’s biggest stages, Díaz was also studying opportunities in the world of television.

In 2013, he got his big break: he premiered at the Borràs in Barcelona’s La gran Ilusión, while he worked his international status with a one-man show on the Discovery Channel, surprising celebrities such as the physicist Stephen Hawking, Antonio Banderas, Eva Longoria and Arnold Schwarzenegger with his tricks, and coming up with spectacular acts to rival those of David Copperfield, whom he admires. In 2014, he teleported himself to New York live on Andreu Buenafuente’s show In the Air. In 2018, he became the highest-grossing European illusionist, according to Forbes magazine. In 2020, he became the world’s top-selling artist.

El Mago Pop waves to the audience at the end of his Broadway premiere last Sunday.
El Mago Pop waves to the audience at the end of his Broadway premiere last Sunday.CJ Rivera (CJ Rivera/Invision/AP)

In 2021, he launched another show on Netflix, thereby reaching an even wider audience. Now, TV is no longer among his goals. “It was good to get international airplay, but it’s no longer necessary,” he says. “It can even be counterproductive. If they see you for free on TV, they won’t come to see you at the theater.”

He seems to have it all figured out. He speaks of El Mago Pop as a “brand” that he wants to sell “all over the world.” He has 200 employees and he knows how to surround himself with good collaborators in every area of the business. He reached a commercial agreement with the airline Level to emblazon the plane that flies between Barcelona and New York with his face this month. Invited by NBC’s morning show in the middle of a promotional campaign for his Broadway debut, he performed one of his teleportation numbers live in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Plaza three weeks back. “It was crazy,” he says. “Doing a stunt like that on the street is very risky, but luckily it went well and got a lot of buzz. It’s true that I spend my money on marketing and whatever it takes. If those in the know tell me that I have to do something like is done for The Lion King to sell more tickets, then I do it. But, in the world of theater, there is something that should never be forgotten: word of mouth. An excited spectator is your best advertisement. So, I try to fill my show with emotion so that the word of mouth is a generous one. That’s really my secret.”

There is one last key to Díaz’s success: perseverance. He has been cultivating it since he was a child. Like many other magicians, Díaz spent his childhood practicing in his room. They say what he likes most is to lock himself up for hours and hours with his team to devise new acts or perfect the ones he has. “I always tell my collaborators that we have to create tricks that would get even more applause if the public knew how to do them,” he says. Another clue to his personality: he maintains that three months ago he couldn’t hold a conversation in English; now he is interacting in English with his audience on Broadway.

So what now? Back to Broadway? A shot in Las Vegas? Broadway gives prestige, but the money is in Las Vegas, right? “Phew... You have to be a big star already when you get there. We’ll see,” he says. The initial plan is to finish at the Barrymore on August 27 and return to Barcelona to rest before starting on October 25 with a new show at the Victòria; in spring 2024, he premieres in Branson; in autumn 2024, he has a season planned in Madrid. But, on Monday morning, after the success on Sunday and the stellar reviews, El Mago Pop’s phone was on fire.

They called him from the all-powerful Shubert Group, which owns the Barrymore and 16 other Broadway theaters, besides six others off-Broadway, to propose extending the run at the Barrymore. Keith Marston, one of the organization’s vice presidents, commented before the premiere that they were looking forward to it because it was an unusual Broadway show, as well as a foreign production. “It’s a discreet premiere,” he said. “At the moment, it’s a gamble.” On his way out, he was hugging people left, right and center, his eyes shining.

El Mago Pop, on Monday in front of the poster advertising his show at the Barrymore.
El Mago Pop, on Monday in front of the poster advertising his show at the Barrymore. Joana Toro

But the Shubert Group weren’t the only ones calling. Other rival producers and theater owners were on the line too. Broadway executives looking for a sensational show to wow audiences with. The volume was such that Díaz asked for an immediate meeting with his lawyer. That’s how show business works. The magician explains it this way: “Let’s imagine there are 41 theaters here and most of them have been running shows for more than 10 years, so in the end there are only five or six new shows in a year. It is almost impossible to get a foot in the door. Much less if you come from outside and have to start from scratch because no one knows you and you have no audience. So if you get in and, on top of that you do well, you turn everything upside down. I will always be eternally grateful to Shubert for putting their faith in me because they took a big risk. I think that it had to do with the need to diversify and capture new audiences with, for example, established artists in the Hispanic world, like me.”

Will these offers change El Mago Pop’s plans in the short term? “Right now, I’m not going to extend the run,” he says. “I need to rest because the last few months have been very intense. And go back to Barcelona. But yes: I would like to do more seasons on Broadway if possible. And after that, we’ll see.” He smiles an innocent smile. Nothing is impossible.

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