Tanya Solomon is a skilled magician who's a master of sleight-of-hand, and her current show, Tanya Solomon: Truth Assassin is based on one simple conceit: From the second you walk into the venue to the second the show is over, you're being lied to. But at least we're all honest about that.
"That's what a magician is," she says. "The great magician Ricky Jay has a famous quote that magicians are the only honest liars. If someone gets up onstage and tells you that they're a magician, it's a given that they're going to lie to you. That's the game from the get-go. I'm not even pretending to tell you the truth. We're just going to have a good time while I lie and lie."
And certainly, Solomon's tricks are fun to watch, whether she's making a $20 bill appear in a sealed can of creamed corn, doing a now-you-see-them, now-you-don't shell-game with a rapidly multiplying set of booze bottles, or somehow freeing herself from a locked box. But the differences between Solomon's show and that of the average trickster are how funny she is, and how much music plays a role.
The bit with the booze bottles finds them appearing when they're not supposed to, while the increasingly flustered magician tries to make them disappear again, and the part of the act where she frees herself from the box is accompanied by a screaming old-school heavy metal track. And there's a particularly great bit set to Van Halen's "Running With The Devil" where Solomon repeatedly raises a cloak over herself and resembles David Lee Roth a bit more every time she lowers it, ending up in a blonde wig, mirrored shades and a cheetah-patterned leotard.
We'll talk about the music part first: "My parents were both musicians, and I played with bands, accordion mostly," Solomon says. "And my tastes in music were pretty wide. I think a lot about how the rhythm of the act is going to go. It's a talking act, it's not silently done to music, but the music really drives it. I try to pick music from all over the place that will drive that particular act."
Then there's the comedy part, which brings up a bittersweet subject: Solomon actually hated magic when she was young, until she saw the lovable huckster Harry Anderson perform his tricks on a Showtime special. Later, she would spend a year studying magic with Anderson, who was both a friend and mentor to her.
"I didn't become a magician or a performer until very late in life, when I was 30," she says. "Because I was disgusted by magic. I could not figure out why these guys were always chopping up women. It just seemed terrible. It wasn't entertaining or mystifying to me. But when I was a teenager I saw Harry Anderson's special, and I thought, 'This is great!' I was blown away by his presentation, the magic he was doing, the whole 'huckster' presentation, then I saw Penn & Teller on TV at the same time, and I thought maybe that could be pretty cool."
Anderson encouraged Solomon to be herself onstage, which is why she plays up the comedy angle just as much as the magic.
"He advised me to stick with comedy magic because it's what I do best onstage," she says. "When I try to be dramatic, I can't pull it off. It ends up being funny, unintentionally. And really, the main point of magic isn't how perfectly you execute the tricks; they do need to be well-executed because if you don't, the whole theatrical premise falls apart. But if you are not entertaining people, it's like people are watching a juggler who juggles really well but has no personality or stage presence. You have to be all personality."
Sadly, Anderson passed away unexpectedly earlier this year, and it was especially devastating for Solomon, not just because of their relationship but because Anderson was planning on attending her performance in Asheville, N.C. Solomon's act literally takes years to develop and perfect, from the music to the pacing to the test shows that let her know what works and what doesn't, and she was anxious for Anderson to see what she'd created with Truth Assassin.
"I was completely shocked," she says. "I was really upset because I had just been in touch with his wife Elizabeth in Asheville and I was finally going to get to do the show for Harry. Just a few weeks before he died, we talked about how I was going to stay at their house and they were going to come to the show. I was devastated by the news. He was an idol of mine before I ever met him."
So as not to end this piece about a great performer with a funny magic act on a down note, we should conclude by pointing out that, if the Tin Roof allows it, Solomon will be bringing a special guest with her to her show, a guest who's a South Carolina native.
"I'm travelling with an animal who's from Columbia, who will be in the show probably. It's my dog Stormy, who's learned to suddenly appear in an empty cage. It's amazing."