The Observer
The North Providence North Star
The Johnston Sunrise

Thursday, June 5, 2003

Johnston's Lon Cerel
Celebrates 25 Years as a Magician

or Johnston's Lon Cerel, the last 25 years of show biz have...well, disappeared into thin air. But that is what it is like when you are a successful magician.

"Getting to do what I enjoy doing and getting paid for it, that is the best part," he explains. "I consider myself extremely lucky."

Earning his living as an entertainer, was hardly as easy as pulling a rabbit out of a hat, nor is it something he entered on a whim.

Mr. Cerel's "magical" career started with a magic set from his grandmother for his ninth birthday. First, he recalls, his parents and anyone else he could get to watch were the audience "whether they liked it or not."

The magic set turned into a hobby, then into an avocation, then a summer job as he entered high school.

His high school yearbook photo was a picture of him hanging upside down from the school's goal posts in a strait jacket, Harry Houdini style.

In college Mr. Cerel's penchant for magic earned him spending money and helped pay college expenses, while he was earning a degree in psychology from Providence College.

That included providing entertainment for the Friars' basketball games at Alumni Hall, including at one point, placing sports announcer Joe Hassett's head in a guillotine.

By that time he also learned to make balloon animals, do some mind reading and other tricks of the trade to round out his performance.

After earning his bachelor's degree from PC in 1978, he took his father out for a cup of coffee to discuss his future, which originally included plans for medical school and eventually becoming a doctor.

Instead, he informed his father Daniel Cerel, owner of Cerel's Jeweler's at the time, that he was going to enter show business, as a magician.

"How do you know you can succeed?" asked his father.

"How do I know I can't?" was Lon's reply.

He agreed to give it a year or two and see what happened. Mr. Cerel hasn't stepped out of the spotlight since then, making this his 25th anniversary show business.

"It occurred to me to give it a shot," he adds. "that first year was a lot of hustling, phone calls, knocking on doors...eating a lot of tuna fish out of cans. But I wasn't starving."

Several unexpected turns of event happened as well to help him on his way.

One included being asked by internationally renowned comedian Henny Youngman to be his opening act.

Mr. Cerel explained that he had met Youngman at a convention while in high school, struck up a conversation with him, and remained friends with him until his death at 92.

Mr. Youngman's photo and endorsement appear in a book created by Mr. Cerel on how to make balloon animals.

"For 10 years of his life we were very close friends," he adds.

Mr. Cerel also broke the record for the fastest balloon artist in the world in 1981.
Though the early days may have included some lucky breaks, they also included a great deal of constant work, doing several birthday parties in a weekend, and running from booking to booking to keep going.

In fact, what he was doing was establishing a base which has continued to last even to this day in many cases, including state fairs, festivals, schools, malls and conferences, many of which have been continuous bookings for a quarter of a century.

Over 50 percent of his work is booked at least a year in advance, he adds.

Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts, for example, has not only booked Mr. Cerel for the last 25 years, but has made him part of their history.

The fair, which bills itself as the oldest continuously running fair in the U.S., lists Mr. Cerel as the most repeated act in its history.

The third week in June, he will also be appearing for the 25th year at Warwick Mall.
Add to that his appearances at church groups, festivals, conventions, trade shows, recognition dinners, schools, and even birthday parties, and it is easy to see why he is booked so far in advance in many cases.

Part of his success lies in simply keeping up with the times, he adds. What he used to do in schools 10 years ago, for example, isn't what he does today.

"Within the past decade, schools have changed to curriculum-based shows," explains Cerel.

The message has to be about recycling, reading, anti-drug messages, more of an educational approach than the earlier programs where you just went and made them laugh."

To build the relevancy-based repertoire, Mr. Cerel researched children's books, checked lesson plans, and generally did his homework, a process which has resulted in school bookings mushrooming in recent years, mostly by word of mouth.

His most popular school show, he adds is the Magic of Reading, which he will be performing today (June 5) at the Greystone School in North Providence.

It also hasn't hurt that magic has moved to the forefront of the entertainment industry either.

Mr. Cerel is booked for the Harry Potter preview entitled Midnight Magic on June 20 at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore in Warwick, where he will make his own brand of magic from 8 PM. until midnight, when the most recent Harry Potter book will be officially released.

Within 25 years under his hat, Mr. Cerel is now finding himself entertaining a second generation of audience. When working a birthday party, he adds, it is no longer uncommon for a parent to approach him and inform he that he was also the entertainment at his or he own birthday party during childhood.

Swear words or rude have never been part of any of his acts, whether for children or adults, he adds. He has been voted Rhode Island's Best entertainer for a birthday party by The Rhode Island Parents' Paper, for the last three years.

Has ever thought about "giving it up"?

"Only a few seconds at time," he chuckles. "The overwhelming majority of time I enjoy the job. I'm fortunate that I am living in a time when magic is so popular."

In many ways Lon Cerel creates his own magic. As he talks about his chosen career, how it started and the enjoyment he gets out of entertaining people, his eyes light up, his hands wave and gesture, and energy seems to fill his very being. Obviously, he loves what he does. After 25 years the magic of its attraction to him has not faded.

And, after all, he must be doing something right, because he has yet to make his audience disappear...

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