Siegfried & Roy come ‘home’ to theatre where it all started

Arts Features
By Ernest Gill Oct 29, 2009, 14:08 GMT

Hamburg – The red carpet was rolled out in front of Europe’s last remaining vaudeville variety theatre in Hamburg for a gala tribute Thursday to illusionists Siegfried and Roy, who were headliners there in the mid-1960s before skyrocketing to international fame in Las Vegas.

Smiling and waving to photographers, the two stars were visibly moved by cheers and applause from onlookers as they arrived at Hamburg airport for Thursday night’s public appearance in honor of the 45th anniversary of their 1964 gig at the Hansa Theater music- hall venue.

They exchanged quips in a salty waterfront German dialect with news crews upon arrival in the port city of Hamburg. As guests of a local newspaper, the two stars issued no other statement, pending publication of an exclusive interview with the paper on Friday.

Showing no signs of the fateful injuries suffered on an on-stage tiger attack in 2003, 65-year-old Roy Horn wore sunglasses and a black beret as he waved to fans and photographers. A powdergrey pin- striped jacket over a matching shirt highlighted black slacks and a long, light-grey woolen scarf.

At Roy’s side, as always, Siegfried Fischbacher looked much younger than his 70 years in a natty black turtleneck and black suede jacket with matching very long woolen scarf which reached to his faded blue denim jeans.

They were whisked to an undisclosed hotel to freshen up for Thursday night’s anniversary gala appearance at the Hansa Theater, which bills itself at Europe’s last remaining vaudeville-style variety theatre.

It was there in 1964 that two young men in their 20s, calling themselves ‘Siegfried & Partner’, performed magic tricks with a big cat. Old photos of that gig show Siegfried in a tuxedo and ‘Partner’ Roy wearing what looked like e a modified bellhop outfit with brass buttons.

Glowing reviews and media interviews catapulted them to fame throughout the European stage entertainment scene. Performances across the continent, and a gig at theMoulin Rouge in Paris, served as a springboard to Las Vegas in 1970.

The rest, as they say, is showbiz history.

Much has changed since 1964. The Hansa Theater has fallen on hard times and, after being closed for several years, is now only open once or twice a year for special celebrity events, such as Thursday evening’s gala appearance.

Ten bodyguards were standing by to flank the red carpet to restrain fans and the paparazzi when Siegfried and Roy arrived Thursday evening.

A special, hand-picked audience of some 500 high-profile guests were told in advance that the two Vegas illusionists would not be performing on stage, but would be seated in the audience.

This is the second headline-making trip to their native Germany, albeit on a far happier occasion than their last visit in June 2005 when Horn was a patient at an exclusive spa clinic in southern Germany where he underwent experimental stem cell therapy.

Accompanied by Fischbacher, a disillusioned Horn abruptly checked out of the Leonardis Clinic in Bad Heilbrunn in Bavaria after having backed out of a key surgical procedure at the last minute. Officially, the clinic issued a statement saying he was ‘homesick to see his animals’ at his and Siegfried’s palatial Secret Garden compound on the outskirts of Las Vegas.

In contrast, the Hamburg visit is upbeat, particularly for Horn, who is from Nordenham, a small town only an hour’s drive from Hamburg near the North Sea coast.

Fischbacher, who comes from Bavaria in southern Germany, has a sister, a Catholic nun, whom he used to fly annually to Las Vegas as a birthday present and introduce to the audience during the show.

The two men met in about 1960 aboard a German cruise ship where Fischbacher was performing as a magician pulling rabbits out of a hat, and Horn was a ship’s steward.

Details of their longtime relationship are shrouded in secrecy. But they claim that Horn had a pet cheetah with him on ship. As they became friends, Roy suggested that Siegfried would make a bigger impression by dumping the rabbit-in-the-hat routine and working with the big cat instead.

After touring European vaudeville houses and music halls such as Hamburg’s Hansa Theater, they landed a successful gig at the Moulin Rouge in Paris.

Aiming for the big time, the pair emigrated to the United States. Upon arrival, they were told they were insane to imagine that their big-cat illusion show would ever come off – after all, no one else had ever done that before in Vegas, where nightclub acts hitherto had been characterised by stand-up comics and singers.

Their mixture of animals and magic and scantily-clad chorus dancers revolutionised entertainment in Las Vegas, where they dominated the entertainment scene for two decades with their headline act at the Mirage resort.

But tragedy struck on October 3, 2003, Horn’s 59th birthday, when he was attacked by a 180-kilo tiger named Montecore during a live show at the Mirage. The 7-year-old tiger bit into the performer’s neck and dragged him off the stage.

The illusionist sustained four deep wounds and had a stroke. The tiger’s teeth damaged an artery that carries oxygen to the brain, and crushed Horn’s trachea and damaged an artery carrying oxygenated blood to the illusionist’s brain, leaving him partially paralyzed.


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