Best Bets: 'Magic Duel' is on at Milton Theatre

By Craig Horleman
Posted 1/21/22

While it won’t quite be a duel to the death tonight at the Milton Theatre, you may see a few things disappear.

Mark Phillips and Ryan Phillips (no relation) will take to the stage in a quest …

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Best Bets: 'Magic Duel' is on at Milton Theatre


While it won’t quite be a duel to the death tonight at the Milton Theatre, you may see a few things disappear.

Mark Phillips and Ryan Phillips (no relation) will take to the stage in a quest for the title of Best Magician in their show, “The Magic Duel.”

In the production, audience members choose challenges for the contest and then vote electronically to determine the winner of the coveted Golden Wand. The show has been playing in Washington over the last six years, earning rave reviews at the famed Mayflower Hotel.

“We actually started in a smaller venue. We were only there for about four months, and we already realized we needed to move because we couldn’t fit in enough people,” said Mark Phillips. “We were selling out every show, and you hate to turn people away. So we found a bigger venue.”

A magician from the time he could vanish a cigarette at age 6, he developed the show with another illusionist friend of his.

“I’d actually worked with other magicians in the past, and I’m a better straight man than I am a comedian. But I really like writing jokes. And so that was kind of frustrating to come up with lines that I knew were funny that didn’t get laughs for me. And I found that if I had a good, funny partner that I could set up with the punchline, typically the jokes would play much better,” Mr. Phillips said.

“So about six years ago, a friend and I had this idea for the show. And we’re basically following a model that has become very popular recently, of doing magic shows in hotels — renting a space there and putting on the show. We had the idea that a two-person show might be fun. And this idea of a magic duel — having a show consist of this contest between two magicians — I think what occurred to us is that it’s something that even if people can’t exactly imagine what the show is going to be like, they do imagine something interesting.”

Mr. Phillips said the show consists of two distinct parts.

“We have the duel part of the show in the first half. In the second half, it’s actually audience members themselves that are doing the magic. So that’s a real fun part for us to put our heads together and come up with magic that the audience members can do. Even the person up on stage doesn’t know how they’re doing the magic. And yet, the magic works, and so that’s a lot of fun for us,” he said.

“But the challenge in the first half is for different rounds of challenges, and the first three audience members select which style of magic we will be doing in the challenge. So there’s about 12 different options, and an audience member selects for each of the three rounds, and the last round is always the same.”

Mr. Phillips said there is a bit of competition between himself and his partner, as to who will eventually win the night.

“I think, as humans, there’s always that competitiveness, even though we know we’re in this together. Basically, what we sort of accept is about half of the audience is going to like you for who you are, and my partner is very young. He’s in his early 20s. And he’s got this kind of physical, comedic sensibility, kind of like Pee-wee Herman or a young Jerry Lewis,” he said of Ryan Phillips.

“He’s got that kind of funny energy, and I’m very, very different. I’m very straight-laced. I’m a baby boomer. So we’ve got the Gen Z versus the baby boomer and all of these fun contrasts, and part of the scripting of the show is us picking on each other and trying to throw little insults and jabs back and forth.”

Mark said he found Ryan after his original partner left to pursue a solo career. He was looking for an actor who had magic as a special skill.

“One of the very first people that I saw was Ryan, and he had just graduated with a degree in theater from nearby. And it wasn’t just that magic was a special skill of his. He was also already performing magic professionally, even though he was very young and just starting out,” Mr. Phillips said.

“When I found him, he happened to be performing at The Little Theatre of Alexandria (Virginia) as the accountant Leo Bloom in the show ‘The Producers,’ the musical. And that was his audition — me going and seeing him there. After that, it’s like, yes, you’re hired. Absolutely.”

Though the show isn’t blatantly obscene, it is recommended for audience members 18 and older.

“It’s kind of a tightrope that you walk because it’s not an R-rated show by any means. It’s maybe mildly PG. There’s not blue language or anything like that. There’s maybe one or two four-letter words that are thrown in because of the punchlines, and we know they get a laugh. But whenever you’re a magician, you’re dealing with people automatically assuming that the show is for kids. So we want people to know that this show is not like that. This show was designed with mature, intelligent humor that’s not targeted toward kids,” Mr. Phillips said.

“We’re not silly. We’re not goofy or cheesy or anything like that. We do our best to try to find topical humor in what’s going on and put that into the show, too. It gives us a new way to make it fresh every time.”

A self-described Army brat who moved many times with his family, Mark Phillips’ long career as a magical entertainer has had him performing in 36 countries. He is one of only 12 recipients of The National Theatre’s Star of Magic Award.

He has worked with hundreds of corporations, exhibiting at trade shows, where he weaves his magic into his clients’ marketing messages.

“I was probably 14 years old when I got my first magic book. My dad was stationed at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, which is in southeastern Arizona. That’s 12 miles from the Mexican border and surrounded by mountains and desert and not a whole lot else. Tuscon was the closest city, and it’s about 70 miles away,” he said.

“And so any kind of entertainment there was hard to find. They talk about vaudeville being a place where you could be bad and learn to be good by being bad. Well, I got a lot of opportunity in Sierra Vista because there wasn’t a lot of other entertainment.”

All these years later, Mr. Phillips said he cherishes magic as a way of making his living.

“There are not a lot of performing-arts styles or types of entertainment that gives that feeling or that sense of astonishment and wonder. It’s kind of corny to talk about it. But life is a little tough right now. It’s nice to be able to get people to forget that every so often and have that kind of good time and that kind of experience of ‘Wow, everything’s possible.’”

Tickets for tonight’s show at 8 are available here or by calling 302-684-3038. The Milton Theatre is at 110 Union St.

Stories sought

The Delaware Division of Historical & Cultural Affairs’ Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes is seeking volunteers to participate in “Recapturing Black Beaches: A Shared Story Project,” an oral-history initiative designed to gather, memorialize and share stories about historically segregated Black and indigenous beaches in Delaware and the people who visited them. These stories will be used for educational purposes, as determined by participants’ permission.

Volunteers may be storytellers, sharing their memories about the beaches with project staff, or interviewers, recording conversations between themselves and someone that they know.

To participate, individuals should fill out the form  here. It can also be printed out and mailed to the Zwaanendael Museum, 102 Kings Highway, Lewes, DE 19958 or emailed to

To learn more, contact 302-645-1148 or

Fellowships awarded

Twenty-five Delaware artists are being recognized with 2022 Individual Artist Fellowships by the Delaware Division of the Arts.

Work samples from 132 choreographers, composers, musicians and writers, as well as folk, media and visual artists, were reviewed by out-of-state art professionals, who considered demonstrated creativity and skill.

Awards are given in three categories: $10,000 for the Masters Award, $6,000 for the Established Professional Award and $3,000 for the Emerging Professional Award. Fellows are required to offer at least one exhibit or performance during the upcoming year, providing an opportunity for the public to experience their work.

Additionally, the art of the Fellows will be featured in a group exhibition, “Award Winners XXII,” at the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover, tentatively set for June 3-July 23.

Linda Blaskey of Lincoln has been awarded this year’s Masters Award in Literature: Poetry. Her work has been chosen for inclusion in “Best New Poets, 2014” and in North Carolina’s “Poetry on the Bus” project for National Poetry Month. She also is the poetry/interview editor emerita for The Broadkill Review, the coordinator for the Dogfish Head Poetry Prize and the editor for the new online journal Quartet.

She organized a presentation of Icelandic poetry for the Rehoboth Beach Film Festival, and her work was included in the Southern Delaware Choral Society’s presentation of “Haydn: Mass in the Time of War.”

The 2022 Individual Artist Fellows are as follows:

• Established Professional Awardees ($6,000) — JoAnn Balingit of Newark, Literature: Creative Nonfiction; Joseph Barbaccia of Georgetown, Visual Arts: Crafts; Tim Broscious of Townsend, Music: Contemporary Performance; Jamie Brunson of Wilmington, Literature: Playwriting; Caleb Curtiss of Newark, Literature: Poetry: t.a. hahn of Middletown, Visual Arts: Sculpture; Jeff Knoettner of Wilmington, Jazz: Performance; Roger Matsumoto of Newark, Visual Arts: Photography; Isai Jess Muñoz of Hockessin, Music: Solo Recital; Mia Muratori of Wilmington, Visual Arts: Painting; Tad Sare of Wilmington, Media Arts: Video/Film; Aaron Terry of Wilmington, Visual Arts: Works on Paper; and William Torrey of Middletown, Literature: Fiction.

• Emerging Professional Awardees ($3,000) — Stephanie Boateng of Newark, Visual Arts: Painting; Christina Durborow of Wilmington, Literature: Creative Nonfiction; Kiara Florez of Magnolia, Visual Arts: Painting; Gregory Hammond of Wilmington, Literature: Fiction; Jim Hawkins of Smyrna, Literature: Playwriting; Gail Husch of Wilmington, Visual Arts: Crafts; Alice Morris of Lewes, Literature: Poetry; Maia Palmer of Wilmington, Visual Arts: Works on Paper; TANKSLEY of Middletown, Music: Contemporary Performance; Leanna Thongvong of Dover, Folk Art: Visual Arts; and Katie West of Wilmington, Visual Arts: Photography.

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is the romance story “Redeeming Love” and Queen Latifah and Dennis Quaid in “Tiger Rising.”