It was a sort of Pygmalion tale, told before an audience that was particularly skeptical of miraculous transformations.
But the narrator was Joanie Spina, a renowned consultant to illusionists seeking to sharpen their acts. And the subject at the 2013 Magic Live! gathering in Las Vegas was the very short, very rotund, very nervous Sir Pat Trick, an aspiring Cincinnati magician who had never before been in Vegas — or on an airplane.
Despite the 90-foot plastic oxygen tube taped to her nose, the ailing Spina was animated and direct: Sir Pat Trick had sent her an audition video showing a doleful fat man making all the classic mistakes: avoiding eye contact, using bad music, doing ho-hum tricks.
Appearing before the seasoned magicians after her coaching, he was a different man — a hyped-up Oliver Hardy doing tango steps with a rose in his mouth, coyly fluttering his tie, and throwing handfuls of glitter into the air as he caused bouquets to vanish and miraculously morphed from a performer into an entertainer.
He got a standing ovation. Near tears, Spina asked, needlessly: “Does anyone have any questions?”
Spina, a former lead dancer, choreographer and artistic director for magician David Copperfield, died Sunday while awaiting transplant surgery. She was 61.
Her death in a Houston hospital was confirmed by her friend and fellow magician Becky Blaney.
She had been treated for cancer and suffered from pulmonary fibrosis. Several months ago, she moved from Las Vegas to Houston for replacement of her liver and lungs.
In an interview Sunday, Copperfield said Spina “left a mark not just on my magic but on the world of magic.” She worked onstage with him from 1985 to 1996.
“She developed a different way of having magic seen by the public — more sensual, more dance-driven,” he said.
In addition to performing her own magic, Spina was distinguished by her gentle but pointed analysis of other magicians.
“We desperately need direction and not enough of us get it,” said Stan Allen, editor of Magic Magazine. “She was an expert at cutting through everything, simplifying it, finding the emotion in performers, and bringing it out.”
Born in Boston on Aug. 4, 1953, Spina grew up in Arlington, Mass. and did not seriously study dance until she was a 26-year-old bartender trying to lose weight.
After her years with Copperfield, she helped other performers integrate magic with music and story lines and wrote a column for Magic Magazine.
She also was an animal advocate, taking in dozens of strays.
Spina’s survivors include her mother, Helen, and brother, William.