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`Magic Rocks` with illusionist Leon Etienne and Chelsea LaCongo. Their summer residency has begun at the NACC. (Photo courtesy of Etienne)
"Magic Rocks" with illusionist Leon Etienne and Chelsea LaCongo. Their summer residency has begun at the NACC. (Photo courtesy of Etienne)

'Magic Rocks' at the NACC this summer

by jmaloni
Fri, Jun 14th 2024 10:55 am

Illusionist Leon Etienne, an ‘America’s Got Talent’ finalist, in residency at Woodbox Theatre

By Joshua Maloni

GM/Managing Editor

Niagara Falls is home to one of the world’s natural wonders, famous attractions, some of the best pizza on Earth, and, for the next few weeks, Leon Etienne.

The illusionist, who has performed on “America’s Got Talent,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “Penn & Teller: Fool Us,” is in residency at the Niagara Arts and Cultural Center’s Woodbox Theatre.

“We're going to do every weekend from now till the end of July, and then we’ve got to go back on tour. But the whole goal is that, if this little test run works, we're going to try to make this … a permanent fixture. And if it stays at the NACC, great; if we have to find other spaces, then that works, as well. But we're really excited,” Leon said Monday.

Though myriad people have seen Leon perform his sleight-of-hand “Magic Rocks” show on screen, his NACC show is unique in that “it's kind of like the intimate, up-close, in-your-face version,” he said. “Everyone that watches on TV, it's always like, ‘Man, I wish I could see that in-person.’ And then we tour to a big theater, something like Shea’s or the casino, and that's the big version of the show. But even then I talk to people – because you're there with anywhere from 400 to 2,500 people, depending on the venue – and it's still like, ‘Oh, maybe if I was just sitting a little closer.’

“And I really think – and I'm smiling as I say this – the beauty of the venue at the NACC is that we can only fit 90 people in there. So, there's not a bad seat in the house. You're right on top of the action. The first two rows are basically onstage with me, and you're literally getting to see some grand illusions as you will never see them.

“Audiences just don't have opportunities to sit that close to performers, usually. And the intimacy of this venue, I think, is what's really special, because it's almost like the audience and the performer become one and everyone's working together. It's highly interactive.”

Scenes from the first Niagara Falls “Magic Rocks” show last week.


On stage, Leon is polished and professional – the result of more than 27 years of practice. He does card tricks, pulls objects out of the air, and even cuts his partner in half – all with rock music setting the mood.

While magic is Leon’s passion, his job, and the thing that takes up most of his time, he said his vocation began in a most unexpected way.

“One day, I was grounded by my mother, and I was bored out of my mind,” Leon recalled. “And now, you’ve got to remember: I'm in my room. I'm 12 years old. This is before the internet. I didn't have a TV in my room at the time. So, under my bed was my fire trucks, my hockey equipment, and then I had a magic book under there, that my grandparents had given me as a gift. And I literally was so bored, I just opened up the book and learned my first trick.

“And when I learned it, I wanted to show it to someone, obviously. So, I left my room, and the first thing my mom said to me was, ‘What are you doing out of your room?’ And ‘You're grounded. Get back in there.’ I said, ‘Mom, hold on a second. I just want to show you this thing.’ And I did a card trick for her – my first card trick – and I literally watched her mind melt (laughs).

“For a 12-year-old, that was like the best power in the world, because this woman, who's been telling me what to do and taking care of me my whole life, all of a sudden didn't have an answer – and it was so cool. So, that's how I got bit by the bug.”

Leon became more and more invested in his craft, and soon started taking gigs performing at birthday parties for the children of family friends in Utica.

“At age 16, I started competing in magic competitions. I started winning those competitions. And then by age 18 … In order to graduate, you have to do a community service project as part of senior year. I graduated in spring of 2002. So, that fall was Sept. 11. And after that whole tragedy happened, I got to think and I was like, ‘You know, if I could put on a magic show in the auditorium for students, and students donate $1 or $2,’ I think we ended up saying you give $2 to your teacher, you get to leave eighth and ninth period and come down to the auditorium and see a magic show. And what happened was so many students left class and donated, we raised thousands of dollars for the 911 fund. And that was my community service project.

“But I put two and two together: I was like, ‘Wait a second. If we can do this a couple of times a weekend in different parts’ – at that point I was only thinking New York state; I was still 18 – ‘we could really make a decent living here.’ And that was the first time I saw that it could actually be a profession you can make a living at.”

(Photo courtesy of Etienne)


Leon now tours with his longtime girlfriend, Chelsea LaCongo, an Orchard Park resident.

Though her training is less-extensive, LaCongo is a natural fit.

“The beautiful thing about it is Chelsea, when I met her, was and still is a professional dancer. So, she had already show business in her blood,” Leon said. “She's been dancing since she was a little girl. Very comfortable on stage; very comfortable in large casts.”

The two met on an Alaskan cruise, where they were booked for different performances.

“We kind of had the romantic thing first, and then she was getting ready to move out to Vegas to pursue dancing out there,” Leon explained. “I said, ‘Hey, before you do that, would you want to just try some illusions and see how we do?’ And we went into a rehearsal space in Utica, and she just tackled that thing.

“She's a go-getter. She's highly motivated – as you have to be as a dancer – and she crushed it, man. … Literally, I threw her in the first prop, and she just made it work.”

Leon and LaCongo have toured together across six continents. A West Coast trek is scheduled for next spring. But this summer, “We just kind of want to be with family; be in a place where it’s familiar to us, instead of living out of a suitcase or a hotel, which is what we've been doing pretty much 10 months a year for the last eight years,” he said.

Leon shared he brought the show to Niagara Falls out of love, but also out of opportunity.

“We talked to our friends, and it's a big trend all over the country – these mini magic residencies,” Leon said. “A lot of guys actually have bought property and put magic theaters up in tourist hotspots all around the country. And it really works. It takes some time to get the ball rolling. But when it does, if you have the volume of tourists – which Niagara Falls certainly does – it's just a matter of educating them and keeping them on the U.S. side at night. It could work.”

The Niagara Arts and Cultural Center


Chris Budde, owner of Brewed & Bottled Craft Beer Shop in Lewiston, was in attendance at Leon’s first Falls show, along with his wife and son.

“The NACC has something special to offer to folks of all ages this summer!” Budde said. “My family enjoyed the show – my son was even brought on stage to participate! We had laughs, were mystified and made memories. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to experience something so unique in Niagara Falls!”

Director of Marketing and Development Kelly Lang-Buckley said, “The NACC is excited to work with talented artists and performers, such as illusionist Leon Etienne, to provide extraordinary family entertainment to locals, as well as visitors to the Niagara Region.

“Mr. Etienne is helping make that happen by sharing his talent as a world-class magician and his expertise as a professional entertainer. He is helping us grow into a destination entertainment center.

“The proceeds of this summer's performances will go to benefit the NACC's theater restoration project. 

“Over the next few years, the NACC will be continuing to ramp up our cultural offerings as we undertake the restoration of the Legacy Theatre. Transforming the Legacy Theatre into a state-of-the-art venue represents the building block for the NACC’s future business model: providing high-caliber performing arts events that will attract and retain local and tourist audiences, thereby acting as a catalyst for economic revitalization along Pine Avenue. 

“Together, we make magic happen!”

(Photo courtesy of Etienne)


The Niagara Arts and Cultural Center is located at 1201 Pine Ave., and online at www.thenacc.org.

For show dates, times and tickets to see illusionist Leon Etienne, visit https://www.nfmagic.com/. He is online at https://www.magicrocks.com and @magicrocksshow.


See also >> Full Q&A with illusionist Leon Etienne

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