Fragments From "Copperfield! The Musical"

From time to time the news cycle offers up an event of such import and complexity that it can only be comprehended through the medium of musical theater. This week resident composer Ben Greenman takes a metahistorical view of the long, sad story of magician, alleged discoverer of the Fountain of Youth and accused rapist David Copperfield.

[DAVID COPPERFIELD is at home, in bed. He is reviewing the circumstances of his own life, as he does every night.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Hocus Pocus

I was born near Ho-ho-kus

Forty miles to the south, to be precise

As a child in Metuchen

I made quite a production

Of mastering each and every magical device:

Magic milk pitchers, cups and balls,

Silks and ropes and linking rings,

Money makers, coins and vases.

Oh, I learned so many things.

Abracadabra alakazam!

That's the kind of guy I am.

[DAVID COPPERFIELD stands to sing. Luckily, he is wearing a robe, as it is Tuesday night. Mondays and Wednesdays are "Dave time" and consequently robeless.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Oh, I was a teenage illusionist

I could make a card vanish with a flick of the wrist

Yes, I was a teenage illusionist

Though it scuttled my social life, I had to persist

These days, I'm famous all over the world

I'm the top entertainer on this big blue globe

In 2005 I took in fifty-nine million

I have eighty large right here in my robe

How did I do it? How did I grow

From a pencil-necked geek to a sorcery pro?

My path to greatness must remain hidden

Disclosing my secrets, of course, is forbidden

But I can, without cheating, review my achievements

I had network specials on TV every year

I walked right through the Great Wall of China

I made a freakin' jet plane disappear

And yet, through it all, I've remained sad and lonely

I have mastered illusions and close-up effects

But I haven't located a true one and only

I haven't had love and I haven't had sex

Yes, that's right: I'm as dextrous as any brain surgeon

But I'm fifty years old and I am still a virgin.

For years, I had Claudia Schiffer on payroll

But she wouldn't get close to touching my pole.

[DAVID COPPERFIELD'S MOM calls up the stairs.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD'S MOM:

Go to bed now, Mr. Top Entertainer

Outen the lights! Don't forget your retainer!

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

That's it. This has to end.

I need a girlfriend.

[The next morning, after his mom makes him pancakes, DAVID COPPERFIELD announces his intention to leave.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Remember when I vanished the Statue of Liberty?

Liberty has been on my mind ever since

And so, my dear mother, the time has now come

For me to depart.

DAVID COPPERFIELD'S MOM

You've been dropping hints.

If you absolutely have to go

Just tell me where—I need to know.

[DAVID COPPERFIELD makes a map appear in his hand. He points dramatically to the Bahamas.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

This is where I'll go when I leave

DAVID COPPERFIELD'S MOM:

The map was folded up inside your sleeve.

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Mom, please!

Geez, louise!

Magic is my expertise!

At any rate, I'll miss you, Mama

But I must strike out for Grand Bahama.

DAVID COPPERFIELD'S MOM:

That's the place you're thinking of heading?

That's where your cousin Irv had his wedding.

Plus, it isn't really the season.

But I'm sure that you have a reason.

[DAVID COPPERFIELD makes a piece of paper appear in his other hand. It has the words "Fountain of Youth" written on it.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD'S MOM:

The Mountain of Youth?

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

It says "Fountain," mom

And try to stay calm

I'm about to disclose

Where it magically flows.

It's a magical island. I'm a magical man.

If any place can satisfy me, that one can.

DAVID COPPERFIELD'S MOM:

Okay, go on. Enjoy, enjoy.

Pack up a sandwich. Such a nice boy.

[DAVID COPPERFIELD goes to the Bahamas. He searches for the Fountain of Youth for twenty minutes, and then heads to a bar to try to get a girlfriend.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

It's time to show off

How suave I can be

Bartender, bring me

A Long Island Iced Tea

[DAVID COPPERFIELD tastes his drink, sets it back down. It's too strong. He picks it back up and takes another sip. Still too strong. At length, he strikes up a conversation with KAREN, a woman sitting next to him at the bar.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Hi, I'm David Copperfield

This deck of cards is completely sealed

Pick a card, now put it back

Your card was red but now it's black.

Watch the deck now. Presto changeo-o!

KAREN:

I have to say, you sure are strange-o.

[KAREN walks away. DAVID COPPERFIELD talks to another woman named HANNAH.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Hi

HANNAH:

Hello.

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Are you alone?

HANNAH:

I don't know

It just depends

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Do you think we could be friends

Or maybe start up a romance?

HANNAH:

Are you happy to see me or is that a wand in your pants?

[HANNAH walks away. DAVID COPPERFIELD returns to his 150-acre estate, goes to his private magic laboratory, and begins to cry.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Women just won't talk to me

What am I doing wrong?

I made a blue flame leap up from my thumb.

My patter is extremely strong.

[DAVID COPPERFIELD rummages through a book of spells until he finds one that allows him to create a woman. He repeats the spell over and over again, increasingly desperate that he will never have a girlfriend. Finally, there's a flash of light and smoke and a naked woman appears. DAVID COPPERFIELD giggles.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD

Amazing

Surprising

My courage

Is rising

She'll behave

As I say

Be my slave

Every day

[DAVID COPPERFIELD touches the woman on the breast.]

WOMAN

Hands to home

You stupid wizard

Your eyes bug out

Just like a lizard

[DAVID COPPERFIELD continues to paw the WOMAN. When it is clear that he will not stop, she punches DAVID COPPERFIELD in the nose.]

DAVID COPPEFIELD:

Ow, my nose

I hurt, I hurt

There's blood running down

The front of my shirt

WOMAN:

Hey, jackass, I said hands off

You may be bloodied but I'm not bowed

You may be able to hornswoggle millions

But you're not as impressive without a big crowd

[The WOMAN punches DAVID COPPERFIELD in the nose again. He frantically casts a spell to immobilize her. In the morning, he tries to uncreate her, but cannot. He puts her on a plane, sits down on his bed, and almost immediately feels panic over what he has done.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

P

Oh, woe is me

Pres

I made a mess

Prestid

What if I'm arrested?

[DAVID COPPERFIELD falls down. DOVES AND CARDS appear in the air over him, where stars and robins would be if he was a cartoon character. They dance alongside him as he sings.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Prestidigitation!

Oh, prestidigitation

I was taking a vacation

To a tropical location

Because of foul temptation

I put on a demonstration

Of destructive desperation

And without consideration

For my magical creation

Brought on much frustration

And a tragic situation

How I wish that conjuration

Could effect a transformation

And turn my sin into salvation

Instead my guilt and my shame will just worsen

For I took advantage of an actual person

DOVES AND CARDS:

Boil, boil, toil and trouble

Until you were twenty you couldn't grow stubble

But your lack of manliness is no excuse

For cruelty, selfishness, greed, and abuse

[DAVID COPPERFIELD tries to swat the DOVES AND CARDS. Just at that moment, GARY, a Federal Agent, knocks at the front door of the estate. DAVID COPPERFIELD opens the door a crack. GARY pushes past DAVID COPPERFIELD and enters the room.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

What is your reason for barging in violently?

What is the charge, sir? What is my crime?

I'll cause a big stir—I'm not the type to stay silent, see

I'm a famous magician, you know, not a mime.

GARY:

Hey, pocket protector

Just cool your jets

We don't respond

Very kindly to threats

[DAVID COPPERFIELD attempts to turn GARY into a rabbit. He fails. He then attempts to produce a quarter from GARY's ear. He succeeds. GARY grabs the quarter and flings it to the ground angrily.]

GARY:

Look here, supergeek

Take a peek at our warrant

Someone is accusing you

Of something abhorrent

I'm going to search

This mansion, and then

I'll fly to Las Vegas and

Start searching again

[GARY searches the Bahamian estate and then flies to Las Vegas to search DAVID COPPERFIELD's warehouse. DAVID COPPERFIELD takes a plane there, too, drives quickly from the airport to the warehouse, then leaps from behind a potted fern and pretends that he has just appeared.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Sim sala bim!

GARY

Holy moly—it's him

This is ridiculous

This is absurd

My job's hard enough

Without this damned nerd

[GARY punches DAVID COPPERFIELD in the nose.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Come on, Gary

Was that necessary?

GARY:

Back off, Mandrake. You're a disgrace.

And my knuckles are hungry for some more of your face

If you truly committed this felony

You'll be doing your tricks in Cellblock D.

[DAVID COPPERFIELD runs to the corner. While cowering there, he calls his mother on his cell phone.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Mom, come quick

I need you here

I feel sad and sick

I want you to appear

[DAVID COPPERFIELD'S MOM appears.]

DAVID COPPERFIELD:

Mommy, mommy

I'm the loneliest swami

I've lost all perspective inside my head

Mommy, mommy

Won't you please calm me?

Will you take me home and tuck me in to bed?

I was only trying to please her

Why do people keep smashing my beezer?

[DAVID COPPERFIELD'S MOM approaches DAVID COPPERFIELD. Her arms are extended in an embrace. As she nears her son, she makes a fist with her right hand and punches him in the nose.]



Previously: Fragments from "Death Comes for Britney Spears! The Musical"

Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction. His latest book, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, was recently published.