Eugene Burger
Originally published in Genii Magazine, November, 1996

The description you are about to read would, no doubt, have been changed many times if Barclay had not died. There were still two major illusions that had not yet even been placed in the show’s ruining order. Yet, even with its obvious imperfections, it seemed to me that I should publish this material as a tribute to Barclay who, I believe, was one of the truly great variety artists of this century, and also a dear friend.

The audience will be entertained even before they enter the showroom. We will have permanent illusions outside, on both rides of the entrance.

The entire showroom will be decorated to match the show, with animated puppet figures and novelty illusions that will come alive at various times during the show.

There will be a huge peacock, with in tail feathers open and spread across the entire proscenium, sitting on the stage when the people enter.

The show will actually begin with two puppets, husband and wife, entering the balcony box nearest the stage. They are having a terrible argument about how bad their seats are and how they will never to able to see the show. During this argument, the wife falls out of the box and is caught by her husband by one leg. She swings around, screaming. A surprise follows when the entire balcony falls toward the audience with sounds of cracking and breaking wood and twisting metal. It stops at about a 45 degree angle.

A puppet stagehand now sticks his head out of the curtains and tells the couple to be quiet. The puppet orchestra then rises from the orchestra pit. The conductor bows to the audience and turns to the orchestra, clicks his baton and strikes up the overture. An animated circus train, made up of animal cage-type cars, now crosses the sage. The show’s credits are displayed: on these cars.

A huge face of Barclay Shaw descends. This is actually a three dimensional screen upon which Barclay’s face is projected, bringing it completely alive. Smoke is falling along-side it. Barclay welcomes the audience:

“The world of magic is a world of fantasy and imagination. It is a world of dreams…and sometimes of nightmares! To take a magical journey is to travel to strange and exotic realms…and to see and experience marvelous things. Tonight, without leaving your seat, we will travel on a journey of magic and fantasy. I’m Barclay Shaw. Thank you for conning tonight…and welcome to my Circus of Illusion!

As the head rises up, the peacock slowly and dramatically closes its tail feathers, and begins to exit stage right. Suddenly the peacock comes alive: Eyes, head and wings move, and the feet clump sideways while it exclaims, “Pardon me, excuse me, pardon me!”

The curtain rises, revealing the opening set which is weird and spacey. The opening production number starts with an adagio: three male dancers and one female working on point. After this, the entire cast enters from the back of the showroom. The production number is followed by Barclay Shaw’s first magical appearance.

Barclay produces the lead dancer from an apparently empty picture frame. Then, in a stunning visual illusion, he transforms himself into her partner. A sexy adagio follows, totally unlike the first one. At the finish of this, Barclay reappears as the back of the showroom, shouting, “Bravo!” He walks toward the stage singing Circus of Illusion, derived from the song Pure Imagination. On stage, Barclay sings the first 18 bars of the aria Vesti La Giubba from Pagliacci. This serves as an introduction for Barclay’s world-famous clown marionette, Toto.

Toto is followed by the introduction of Barclay’s special :”genie” assistant who is produced from a cabinet that, moments before, was shown absolutely empty. This leads into the Oriental Dream production number during which he performs several rapid-fire smaller illusions with rabbits, birds and other livestock. This takes place on a sumptuously designed Arabian set with wonderful music and choreography. It concludes with Barclay’s own version of The Girl Without a Middle. In this presentation, no false head is used.

Barclay now introduces the Prince and offers him The Ultimate Toy: Piece by piece, Barclay constructs a six armed statue that suddenly comes alive and makes love to the Prince in what may be the hottest production number ever put on a stage, ripping off his costume and finally strangling him with his own G-string! At the conclusion of this number the male dancer is completely nude — with, however, his back toward the audience.

Barclay now takes the audience to an undisclosed island in the Caribbean to witness a scary Voodoo Ritual. This set will be fantastic with a waterfall and a huge stone statue of a god that comes to life. This number features another sexy adagio in the nude under the waterfall. The god becomes angry with the temple virgin (who is no longer one at the end of the dance!) and comes to life and moves forward, eyes blazing, smoke out of the mouth, lightening, thunder, etc., in Surround Sound. The Voodoo production number also includes dancers entering through the audience and climaxes with the most realistic Cremation illusion ever presented. It is so scary that Barclay must immediately reproduce his assistant to prove that she is unharmed! He does this with another comedy illusion in ‘which the young lady is “reconstituted” — with the assistance of “Dr. Ruth.”

Using his own version of the Lion Cage, in which the audience can see completely through the cage, Barclay now transforms the young lady into his acclaimed marionette, Clara Cluck, “The World’s Foulest Chicken.” Now follows Clara’s spot — eight minutes of solid comedy.

A medieval production number is next with another fantastic set. While highly comedic, this number features Barclay’s presentation of the World’s Greatest Levitation illusion. At the conclusion, while Barclay and his assistant are still bowing, a dragon crashes through the stone wall behind them, and carries of the young lady in its jaws. The dragon is very realistic and will come as a complete shock to the audience. The dragon retreats through a hole in the wall, the young lady screaming. Barclay becomes philosophic: “Well, win one, lose one! If you have to be eaten, it might as well be in the grand manner!” There is a loud reverb “burp!” from offstage.

Two dancers, who had fought off the dragon, now perform a combination dance and acrobatic routine on overhead bars.

This is followed by Toto’s little brother, high up on the trapeze. This is the only marionette of its kind in the world: It is operated from below and performs 20 feet over the heads of the audience.

A South American production, Latin Impossibilities, follows which includes another fantastic set. This number features great dancing and three illusions, ending with Barclay’s comedic version ‘of the Sword Cabinet. The show’s finale works out of this production.

At the end of the show, Barclay pecks through the curtain to say “goodnight.” His head suddenly goes flying up the crack in the curtain and explodes!

The audience is “played out” of the room by a life size marionette of Liberace. He sits at a huge golden pipe organ and talks to the audience as he plays, telling them, “You can go home now, folks!”

Barclay also planned two additional illusions for show, choreographed to beautiful music. He had not yet decided where they would be placed. The first is a mirror illusion called Vanity: A young lady makes love to herself in a large three-fold mirror. Suddenly two sets of male hands appear around her, caressing her. She moves away from the mirror, the hands vanish and the mirror itself is still solid. She turns back to the mirror and the hands reappear, moving over her body. Barclay now goes up to her to pull her away from the mirror. She vanishes! Only her empty costume remains. The mirror is immediately turned around, showing that the back is also solid.

The second illusion is the sensational Vanish of a Girl in a Tank of Water which Barclay believed was last presented in the 1920s in New York’s Hippodrome Theater. Barclay borrows a waterproof wristwatch from an audience member. The donor signs a release permitting Barclay to use the watch underwater. The watch is placed on the wrist of a girl clad in a bathing suit. The young lady climbs a ladder and lets herself down into a tank of water. The tank is three feet square and seven feet high. It sits on a base with legs, off the stage floor. Because of the weight of the tank, the illusion is permanently mounted to one side of the sage. A committee from the audience is invited on stage and joins hands in a ring around the tank. The tank is covered for a count of three — and the c1oth is whisked away revealing the tank to be completely empty! The audience members can see each other through the water in the tank. There are no mirrors; the girl is really gone. Barclay immediately points to a trunk hanging overhead. (Earlier in the show the audience’s attention was drawn to the trunk.) The trunk is lowered to the stage, opened and found to contain a second trunk which is removed and placed up on trestles. When the second trunk is opened, yet a third trunk is discovered. When this trunk is opened, the same girl wearing the same borrowed watch gets out! Barclay returns the watch and asks the donor if it is still working. This stunning and baffling illusion happens in a matter of seconds.


For me, the two words that best sum up Barclay Shaw as a performer are professional and Barclay’s professionalism can be seen in an incident that occurred in 1986 at the Riviera. The hotel’s marquee burst into flames and disintegrated, leaving the eight o’clock show completely dark. I quote now from the Las Vegas Sun, November 20, 1986: “Puppeteer and illusionist Barclay Shaw was about to perform his spellbinding illusion when the lights went out. Shaw proved to be a headliner in every sense of the word. With flashlights, held by stage hands, Shaw went on with his performance with Clara Cluck, the world’s most foul chicken. He kidded the audience: ‘I feel like I’ve been booked for a club date on the Titanic.’ … The audience than enjoyed it — they loved it! When the ‘Splash’ star thanked Duracell for being his spotlight, the audience roared — followed by applause. Calmly he asked the audience to leave and thanks to the brilliant way Barclay Shaw handled what could have been a delicate situation THE AUDIENCE LEFT SMILING…”

Barclay’s perfectionism can be seen in the fact that he was seldom satisfied. He always wanted the deceptiveness of his magic to become stronger. He never rested on what he had already accomplished. And he especially loved fooling magicians. After Toto’s performance, for example, Toto would go back into his box. Barclay would take the box, place it on a tray and cover it with a cloth. He would then remove the box from the tray, come forward and make the box and puppet disappear. Magicians were always surprised because, when the box was removed from the tray, the tray remained an inch thick! The tray was carried off in a way that everyone could see it was flat! Furthermore, as soon as the box was vanished Barclay would pull the cloth through his fist, demonstrating the absence of any internal forms to delineate the large box that had apparently been beneath the cloth up until a moment before.

Once at a magicians’ convention Barclay performed what appeared to be an Abbott’s Cremation illusion. Yet at the end of the effect, he tipped the table forward and everyone was able to see right through it! The young lady wasn’t hiding there. Barclay had cleverly created a version where the assistant slipped out of the side of the box and into the scenery. Just for the magicians, he painted his illusion to look exactly like the Abbott’s version.

One can also see Barclay’s perfectionism in his attention to detail. Take, far example, Barclay’s handling of the hoop pass during his levitation. When I first saw Barclay’s presentation, the assistant, after reclining on the couch (which, by the way, had a filigreed wrought iron grille-work back on it!), was covered with a diaphanous cloth. She rose in the air, undulating all the way up. Barclay then whisked off the cloth and did the double Hoop Pass much as Richiardi performed it: He would pass the hoop once, hand it to his assistant to take off and then apparently hear someone m the front row say something. In response to this supposed spectator comment, the hoop was taken from the assistant and posed a second time.

Before he died, Barclay made a small change in this procedure which, like most details, made a great deal of difference. Now the young lady rose in the an and he passed the hoop over her and handed the hoop to his assistant. At this point he dramatically pulled away the cloth which prompted applause. Then he passed the hoop the second time. It was a small change but it made a big visual difference and made the second hoop pass even more logical because, now that the cloth had been removed, a new situation and a new reason for passing the hoop was established. Barclay was always thinking about how bc could make his work better.

Barclay is gone and I must tell you that I miss him. His Throne Illusion (a beautifully rendered version of Tom Palmer’s Satan’s Seat appearance) can be seen in Lance Burton’s wonderful show. Toto and the levitation are now part of David Copperfield’s great collection. Will Toto ever walk on a sage again? We can only wonder.

For those readers who would like to see Barclay Shaw perform Toto the Clown, he appears on the Liberace television special, Leapin’ Lizards, It’s Liberace! available on video from the Liberace Museum in Las Vegas.