World champ to ‘escape’
THREE OAKS—Whatever you do, don’t call Mario Manzini’s daring, Houdini-style feats “tricks.”
“They are not ‘tricks.’ They are escapes. What I do is not an illusion. What I do is real,” explained Manzini, who will be performing at The Acorn Theater at 7 p.m. May 14. “If they were tricks, they would always work out right, but I’ve had to be rescued a couple of times when things went wrong!”
Billed as “The Guinness World Champion Escapologist,” Manzini found his calling at the age of 4, when he first saw a film about Harry Houdini on television.
“I was watching TV on Halloween — that was the anniversary of Houdini’s death. I remember the film clips of him — the different escape acts he did — and I said, ‘Boy, I’ve gotta do this!’ Manzini recalled.
While many people have seen the old films of Houdini escaping from seemingly impossible situations, few ever go on to attempt those feats. Manzini, however, was compelled to follow in Harry Houdini’s famous footsteps.
“There was something about the way Houdini held himself, his charisma,” Manzini said. “He was so confident when he had the police lock him up. I said, ‘Boy, this is what I want to do!’”
Despite opposition from his father, the Bronx-born Manzini could not be dissuaded, and he began having his friends tie him up with ropes from which he would then escape. Even while studying to become an electrician, he did not give up his dream to emulate Houdini.
“I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. I would always carry around rope with me, and my friends would tie me up really good. The kids and teachers at school would tie me up, too, and I would always escape,” Mario said.
Even when a friend’s father, a New York City policeman, handcuffed Mario’s hands behind his back, the boy managed to escape immediately.
Manzini finally broke into show business at the age of 16, landing a job among sword-swallowers and fire-eaters at New York City’s famous Hubert’s Museum and Flea Circus. This was, in fact, the same place Houdini had gotten his start at the age of 18.
“Later, I was hired by RKO and then Loew’s theaters, and I played all of their venues in the New York area for about three years. I also worked for the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey Circus for about seven years,” Manzini said. “But, those were very short acts, and I wanted to do whole shows, so I struck out on my own.”
Now, Manzini averages between 125 and 200 shows in the United States and Canada every year. He has also performed in Japan, Australia and England, as well as having been featured on a number of television shows, including the 1980’s hit show, “That’s Incredible!”
Manzini’s wife and assistant, Victoria Roze, will open the 90-minute show at The Acorn with her electric violin act. Then, Manzini’s act will feature three escapes that he modeled after ones he saw Houdini perform in the documentary he watched at the age of 4.
“The three things I remember watching him do were when he was handcuffed by the police, and he jumped off a bridge and escaped under water,” Manzini recalled. “The second was when he was locked in handcuffs, put in a box, and the lid was nailed shut, and he was thrown in a river. The third was when he was hung upside down in a straightjacket and escaped from that.”
Rather than jumping in a river, Manzini will be locked in a large milk can full of water. Audience members will also be given the chance to participate in Manzini’s upcoming show.
“I’ll have four volunteers—four adults—come up on stage and tie me up and put handcuffs on me. Then, I’ll walk through the aisles and have the kids examine the ropes,” Manzini said. “They can tie more knots in the ropes if they want to. That gets the kids involved.”
Volunteers, including any local police officers in attendance, will also have the opportunity to lock Manzini in six to eight pairs of handcuffs and prison shackles. He will then be placed in a U.S. Mail bag and attempt to escape from that in front of the audience.
If you are looking for a midweek escape for yourself, tickets for Manzini’s show are available by calling The Acorn at (269) 756-3879 or by visiting www.acorntheater.com. The cost is $20 for adults and $10 for children 18 and younger.
“I’ve been doing the show for many years, and so far, everybody loves it,” Manzini said.