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Frank Balzerak won’t pull a rabbit out of a hat, but he’ll easily hoodwink unsuspecting diners and party-goers with his sleight-of-hand skills and his engaging sense of humor.

The 54-year-old professional magician specializes in up-close magic tricks that are quick-paced and interactive, often leaving people asking, “How’d you do that?”

The Windsor resident brings his talents to bookings across the Bay Area but spends much of his time entertaining at local restaurants, where he brings his act from table to table.

Smartly attired but without the traditional magician’s top hat, Balzerak randomly grabs a butter knife from a setting and uses it to conjure up a stream of coins; a piece of notepaper spotted at another table is deftly folded into origami that becomes a $100 bill.

“It can feel like real magic,” Balzerak said of his intimate illusions. “It’s nothing short of real magic.”

Balzerak is a master of card tricks, rope tricks and disappearing-ball tricks, all performed within a few feet or even just inches of his audience. He likes to chat and occasionally pulls out a magic wand, but he won’t use conventional storytelling, gimmicks or lead-up techniques with his tricks.

“I like to blur the line between where reality ends and magic begins,” he said.

The big stage has little appeal for Balzerak, who makes his living in smaller settings entertaining people of all ages. He’s played Las Vegas and larger venues across the country before, but says they’re just not his style.

“I hear weekly, ‘Why aren’t you in Vegas?’ and I always come back with, ‘Have you been to Vegas?’ ”

Balzerak prefers the intimacy of local restaurants and taverns, where he typically works four gigs per week. He relies on word-of-mouth referrals and doesn’t advertise beyond his web page.

Balzerak has done everything from kiddie parties and winery functions to trade shows, conventions and business meetings for a long list of Fortune 500 companies.

Clients include celebrities, politicos and everyday people who want to add some fun and humor to holiday gatherings or special events.

He enjoys Grad Night celebrations for high school seniors, sometimes his toughest audience but always among the most appreciative of seeing their friends duped.

The late actor Robin Williams hired Balzerak for several private parties “and was very complimentary and very nice,” and bestselling author Danielle Steel has been a repeat client, he said.

Revealing her own sense of humor, the many-times-divorced author once quipped to Balzerak, “Can you add a little magic to my love life?”

The magician even managed to get some smiles from stoic Secret Service agents at a function in San Francisco hosted by former Secretary of State George Shultz and his wife Charlotte.

“People love Frank,” said Stevie Brunolli, a manager at Hopmonk Tavern in Sonoma, where Balzerak performs on Thursday nights. “With magic, you usually think it’s for kids but the grown-ups are the ones impressed with him. Man, he’s good. He’ll get you every time.”

No matter where he’s performing, Balzerak can work his magic to elevate moods, elicit laughter and leave people smiling.

“I can walk up and change someone’s day or week,” he said.

Balzerak says it was “divine intervention” when he discovered magic at age 9 or 10. He headed to the library for a magic book, feeding a passion that’s continued throughout his life. Even today, he’s still learning new tricks and adding variations to old ones.

“I’m always working on new stuff that may be a few years out,” he said. “You practice until you can do it. Some things take a few years to get to the point where I’m ready to try it out.”

He’s a member of several professional associations for magicians and has lectured on magic and shared his skills on an instructional (and award-winning) DVD for fellow magicians. Three of his routines are featured on the DVD series, “The World’s Greatest Magic.”

Balzerak has been perfecting his magic tricks since he was a kid. At Montgomery High School in Santa Rosa, he was reprimanded more than once for keeping a magic book open within the pages of his textbooks.

After he was kicked out of an art class at Montgomery, his high school counselor kept Balzerak in the school office for the rest of the semester. He spent the class period cheering up countless parents called to the counselor’s office to discuss their students’ errant ways.

“I’d go in and he’d introduce me and say I might not graduate. I’d do a little magic trick and it would be a totally different mindset than when they walked in,” Balzerak said.

Balzerak credits two mentors — and the school counselor – with helping shape his career. When he was 12, he met a local magician named Jack McMillan at a magic club meeting. Impressed with the young Balzerak’s dedication to the craft, McMillan took him out for burgers and magic lessons each week.

“He was a very humble guy,” Balzerak said. “I had no idea of the stature of this guy. He was one of the top ten sleight-of-hand magicians in the U.S.”

Balzerak was later influenced by a counter worker at the House of Magic in San Francisco, a “technical wizard” who shared his flawless techniques with the aspiring magician.

Today Balzerak loves working a crowd, performing his sleight-of-hand specialties and using his “kind of smart aleck” humor to win over audiences. He enjoys even the most dubious of spectators watching for a flub or a clue.

“I relish that,” he said of transforming his skeptics.

“To be able to connect with all those people is a unique challenge,” Balzerak said. “Connecting with people and the humor helps me perform the magic.”

Despite genuine interest and sincere bribes from audience members, Balzerak won’t reveal any of the tricks or techniques to his illusions. Only the magician knows how to turn an ordinary piece of notepaper into a crisp C-note, and he’s not telling.

He’ll only say, “It’s magic.”

Catch Frank Balzerak in the act Sunday mornings at the Omelette Express, 112 Fourth St., Santa Rosa, or evenings at local Hopmonk Tavern locations, starting at 6:30 p.m.: Wednesdays at 230 Petaluma Ave., Sebastopol; Thursdays at 691 Broadway, Sonoma; and Saturdays at 224 Vintage Way, Novato.

For more information, visit frankbmagic.com or call 280-3543. Fees range “from donating time to several thousand dollars,” he said.

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