- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

It is magic what Joe Romano does for the students. He is demonstrating a shoe-cleaning machine. “Your shoe will look so good, you might want me to do the other one,” Mr. Romano tells a boy who has volunteered to have his athletic shoe cleaned.

He puts the boy’s shoe in a red box marked “Wiz Kote,” which promptly starts smoking. Rather than a clean shoe, Mr. Romano pulls from the box a black cinder of rubber and canvas.

“Look, everybody, sole food,” Mr. Romano puns to about 400 elementary school students seated on the floor of the auditorium. Most of them laugh. One kindergarten girl continues sucking her thumb.

But, in the grand tradition of legerdemain, the boy is spared from going home without his shoe when a teacher seated on the side of the auditorium produces it from a box Mr. Romano gave her before the start of the show.

So how did the boy’s shoe get into the second box when no one seemed to put it there?

That’s the mystery that has kept Mr. Romano employed as one of the Washington area’s pre-eminent stage magicians for 15 years.

In the Halloween season, he is kept hopping among schools, theme parks and private engagements during his busiest time of year.

“This is the smallest thing I do, the schools, but it keeps me busiest,” Mr. Romano says. “I really like it.”

He finishes his show at Long Branch Elementary in Arlington with a brief lecture about learning new things in libraries and the importance of the American flag. He emphasizes the point by blowing into his fist, making red, white and blue confetti blow into the air around him, seemingly out of nowhere.

“Let’s give it up for your PTA,” he tells the students to elicit their applause.

The afternoon production is one of two magic shows he does at the school this day. The second one is staged for the same children and their parents, but with slightly different tricks to keep the show fresh for the audience.

Mr. Romano describes his workday at Long Branch Elementary as typical for his career as a magician.

He awakes late after rehearsing until 2 a.m. for a theme park show he is preparing.

After breakfast, he checks his computer records to make sure he will not be repeating too closely a performance he gave at the school two years earlier.

“I keep a record of every performance I do,” he says.

After a trip to the dry cleaners to pick up the clothes he will use during his performance, Mr. Romano drives to Long Branch Elementary from his home office in Alexandria.

He arrives at the school around noon, introduces himself at the principal’s office, then sets up his equipment for the show in the auditorium.

After the first show, he drives home to check e-mail and return phone calls, then heads back for the second show.

He hangs around for a while after the evening show at 7 p.m. to meet the children and their parents.

“Afterward, I autographed a little magic book I wrote,” he says. “I try to personalize it for them.”

Mr. Romano is the author of “Amazing Magic Tricks for Kids,” which shows children how to use science, math and spelling to do magic tricks.

For most magicians, magic is either a hobby or a part-time job. For Mr. Romano, it’s the career path he has chosen since he was a child.

As a boy, he would stage carnivals in his back yard for neighborhood children. He graduated from Maurice J. McDonough High School in Pomfret, Md., in 1982, then majored in radio-television-film at the University of Maryland.

He has performed at Six Flags America, casinos in Atlantic City, N.J., Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., Knott’s Berry Farm in Los Angeles and the White House. He also has produced and appeared in halftime shows for the Washington Redskins.

“I like to call my own shots,” Mr. Romano says about his business. “I like the fact that when I was a kid I wanted to be a magician and now I’m actually doing it. I’m kind of pleased it has gone well.”

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