It's hard to believe, but it's no illusion. Saturday will mark 35 years since the first performance of Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Company in Beverly.
A generation has grown up trying to figure out how lead magician David Bull makes ducks disappear, pulls interlocking rings apart and reunites the ladies he has sawed in half.
"Every week, we come out here in the lobby and say goodbye to the audience," said Bull, who was 22 at his first performance. "Almost invariably, someone will come up and say, 'I was here when I was 7, and now I'm here with my children.'"
Bull said there is nothing tricky about what has made the show a lasting success: the vision of company founder Cesario Pelaez and the hard work of a talented and dedicated cast and crew.
"He was the producer, the creator, the director and choreographer," Bull said of Pelaez, who performed with the show as Marco the Magi on a regular basis until 2005, when he suffered a stroke.
Pelaez, who also taught psychology at Salem State for 25 years, returned to the show in 2006, until his health was dealt another setback in 2009.
Though he no longer performs, Pelaez is still involved in the production and appears at the end of every show.
"He started when he was a kid in Cuba, and when he was a teenager he started his own theatrical company, and magic was always a part of it," Bull said.
The tradition in Cuba, which served as a steppingstone for acts traveling from South America to Europe, was for lavish productions, according to Bull.
"It wasn't the little magician with the top hat and the rabbit," he said. "It was just like the symphony or the ballet or the opera — it was that level of theater."
Colorful costumes, along with the show's many different sets, props and backdrops, surround the magic with a magnificent spectacle, which typically lasts a little more than two hours.
Almost as impressive as the costumes themselves is the fact that most of them were created by the cast, along with the backdrops.
The Cabot Street Cinema Theatre, built in 1920 and restored by the company from 1976 to 1977, also contributes to the show's exotic aura.
It is one of a pair of theaters owned by the company, which seven years after restoring the Cabot purchased the Larcom Theatre on Wallis Street and currently presents a second show there, "An Anthology of Stage Magic."
Named for Lynn poet Lucy Larcom, who supposedly was born in a house on that spot, the Larcom was built in 1912, the same year as Fenway Park, and needed even more work than the Cabot to restore, Bull said.
"Beverly as far as we know was the only town of its size that had two standing vaudeville theaters still intact," Bull said. "They were being used as cinemas, but Cesario knew, behind those movie screens was a real stage."
The magic show has changed completely from its original version, Bull said. The cast has also changed, numbering 60 at one point and now featuring 20 players, 10 of whom have been there from the very start.
One of these, Rick Heath, plays a clown named Albert Ping Pong, while also using his artistic skill to design the theater's backdrops, as well as the many ingenious posters that advertise performances.
Heath credits Pelaez with teaching him all the fine points of clowning.
"There are teachers, and there are great teachers, and then there's Cesario," he said.
One of Pelaez's most important lessons, Bull said, is that magicians should "create illusions agreeably."
"We're not interested in tricking you" with magical illusions, Bull said. "People feel less for it, like 'I'm stupid, and you know something I don't know."
Marco the Magi and Le Grand David have always hoped to have a more pleasing effect on their audience.
"Hopefully, you're fooled by the trick," Bull said, "but you're having such a great time, and the painted set is so spectacular and the costumes and the choreography, it just becomes part of this accumulated feeling of well-being, and happiness and joy."
If you go
What: Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Company 35th Anniversary Performance. All proceeds to Beverly Bootstraps, YMCA, North Shore United Way and Beverly Hospital.
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
Where: Cabot Street Cinema Theatre, 286 Cabot St., Beverly
Tickets: $26 adults, $15 children 11 and under, at box office, 978-927-3677, www.legranddavid.com.