Thirty-six years ago, downtown Beverly was an unlikely location for what would become one of longest-running stage productions in the country.
The Beverly bureau of what was then The Salem Evening News occupied the ground floor of the movie theater at the corner of Cabot and Judson streets when Cesareo Pelaez and the cast of what would become Le Grand David and His Own Spectacular Magic Company arrived. They began painting the exterior of the building brick by brick, and inside at all hours could be heard the sound of work on the stage and props.
On Feb. 20, 1977, the show debuted, with Pelaez in the role of Marco the Magi, bringing live performances back to the former vaudeville house and ushering in a new era in the history of Beverly's central business district.
Today, while the future of Pelaez's creation is uncertain, its impact on the vitality of the downtown remains. Once-empty storefronts along Cabot Street are now full of activity day and night, a result not only of the programming at the Cabot Theatre, but the draw provided by an expanded public library and the Montserrat College of Art nearby. (Pelaez, fittingly, was awarded an honorary doctorate by the college in 2004 for his "outstanding creative career as a magician ... and the important work you have done to restore and bring to life two antique theaters in our city (the Cabot and Larcom)."
The loss of Pelaez's oversized personality, leadership ability and star power had already been felt prior to his death at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers on Saturday morning (which happened to be the birthday of the country's greatest magician, Harry Houdini). The magic show had been on hiatus since last month when a weakened Pelaez made an appearance at the company's 35th anniversary production.
Regardless of what the future holds for the show or building, however, Pelaez, whose credits include 25 years of teaching in the psychology department at Salem State University, will long be remembered for his great showmanship and the inspiration he provided so many.