Famed Magician to the Stars, Steve Cohen, on Enchanting Celebrities and Being Born Into the Business

Steve Cohen's Chamber Magic is now playing at the Lotte New York Palace hotel

Guillermo Del Toro and Steve Cohen at Chamber Magic
Photo: Nico Moreno

Live magic is very much alive in New York City!

Magician and renown showman Steve Cohen is an enchanting fixture at the famed Lotte New York Palace hotel, entertaining audiences in one of the venue's intimate and elegant salons with a dazzling live show, titled Chamber Magic.

The show, performed weekly, features everything you'd want from over an hour of live magic, including conjuring, mind-reading, sleight of hand, and some special tricks Cohen has up his sleeve. The evening transports audiences to the type of parlor entertainment popularized in Manhattan's early 20th century.

Below, Cohen talks to PEOPLE about what attracts celebrities to hit hot-ticket show, how he got into the world of magic, and what returning fans can expect.

You might find a celebrity in his audience

Cohen says he was "was thrilled to see Stephen Sondheim in the audience" before the Broadway legend died. "He sat in the front row, and it was just a really exciting thrill," Cohen recalls. "And then he kept sending in all his theater friends to see the show. John Williams, the composer of the Star Wars music. He came to the show twice. Guillermo del Toro, the film director. He came to the show three times and then introduced me to Bradley Cooper and then I acted in two scenes with Bradley Cooper in the latest film Nightmare Alley. Tracy Morgan bought out the entire front row of the show at the Palace and he brought in his whole family. And during the show he was very vocal. He was throwing his hands up in the air, punching the air, yelling out stuff such as, 'This guy is better than Houdini.'"

Steve Cohen in Nightmare Alley
Kerry Hayes

He comes from a family of magicians

"My great uncle, my father's uncle, was an amateur magician," Cohen shares. "He was born in 1901 and when he was a boy, he had seen all the close-up magicians in New York City, and he thought this is a great hobby. He took it on as a hobby. Then when I was a boy, I was born in 1971, my uncle used to show me the tricks that he had learned over the years that he used to carry in his pockets. And something just sparked in my mind, this is my life's work. And of course, my parents wanted me to become a physician, I became a magician."

Katie Couric and Steve Cohen at Chamber Magic
Courtesy of Steve Cohen

Fate brought him to the Palace Hotel

After living and performing in Tokyo for five years, Cohen moved back to New York to continue his career as a magician. "I was really a starving artist in the beginning," he remembers. "And my wife and I were walking one day up Madison Avenue, and this sounds like a fairytale, but it's a 100% true. And we stopped in front of the Palace Hotel. It was Christmas season, so they were giving out free Christmas cookies in that courtyard area that was closed off when you came. But it's usually open when the construction isn't going on. They have a big courtyard where they were giving out Christmas cookies, apple cider, and hot chocolate. And I walked into that courtyard area, and I looked around this beautiful mansion and I said, 'One day, I'm going to do my show here.' And sure enough, 20 years later, I ended up doing my show there. And at the Palace I've been there for now for five years. I was at the Waldorf Astoria for 17 years before that."

Renee Zellweger and Steve Cohen at Chamber Magic
Courtesy of Steve Cohen

He loves the intimacy of a smaller show

While Cohen has performed at venues as large and esteemed as New York City's legendary Carnegie Hall, he's especially fond of smaller stages where he can develop a bond with the audience. "I've always thought that it's important for the magician and the audience to be able to see each other's eyes," he shares. "And when you're performing on a big stage, especially when there's stage lighting, the magician really can't see the audience's eyes at all, because they're shrouded in shadows. So, part of the draw of a close-up magic show is everyone gets a chance to really feel a personal connection with the performer. When I'm on stage and I'm just a few feet away from you, it's not even on stage anymore. It's more like you're in my living room."

Tracy Morgan and Steve Cohen at Chamber Magic
Nico Moreno

His show is ever evolving

"What I've found is that people come back, and they realize that it's different each time and there's interaction that changes," Cohen says about his show. "It's like an improv comedy show that way. People have said, 'Oh, I never see things twice, but I'll come back and see this a second and third time.' One of the other nice things is, because it's been running now for 22 years in New York, which is means over 6,000 live performances, that I have people who have come back who have maybe seen the show when they were a teenager. And then 20 years later, they came back in their 30s. And that's pretty rewarding to me. One woman said to me, 'I've been thinking about this show my whole life and I wanted to come back again as an adult.'"

For tickets to Chamber Magic, visit the show's website.

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