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Magician Dan White earned his chops on South Street

In a Tonight Show appearance this year, magician Dan White handed Jimmy Fallon a gift box.

White wowing Jimmy Fallon (left) and the "Tonight Show" audience with his Powerball-ticket trick. White has worked with David Copperfield, David Blaine, and Kanye West.
White wowing Jimmy Fallon (left) and the "Tonight Show" audience with his Powerball-ticket trick. White has worked with David Copperfield, David Blaine, and Kanye West.Read more( NBC )

In a Tonight Show appearance this year, magician Dan White handed Jimmy Fallon a gift box.

He asked the host to throw a ball into the audience and have the catcher call out a number between one and 60. Fallon threw the ball to five other random audience members and wrote their six numbers on a chalkboard.

Then Fallon opened his box - to find a Powerball ticket with the same six numbers written on the chalkboard.

White defines success by the oohs, ahhhs, and how-did-he-do-its? he hears - in this case, from Fallon and the audience. But the 34-year-old Philly native can hang his rabbit hat on an even broader definition.

What started in March as a once-a-weekend show at New York's NoMad Hotel has grown to four shows of sellout crowds each weekend (with tickets at $85 to $125) - and no end date in sight.

Not only is he mentioned in conversations alongside David Copperfield and David Blaine, two of his mentors, but he also has consulted in Las Vegas with Copperfield and was featured on the Discovery Channel's The Supernaturalist in 2011 as well as the Travel Channel's White Magic in 2013. Last year, he was a consultant to Kanye West, collaborating on magic visuals for the Yeezus Tour.

All this from the self-described "shy, little, pudgy Asian kid" (now 6-foot-3, svelte, and model-good-looking), who earned his chops on South Street.

"That's where I learned how to get the best reactions from people," White said, "and how to present things in a way that makes sense."

After his father - Ben Kamihira, a well-known figurative painter with works in the Philadelphia Museum of Art - bought him a magic set when he was 10, "I saw a magician performing ... and was entranced," said White, who gets his last name from his mother.

Discovering the Hocus Pocus Magic Shop, then at Fourth and South Streets, "I spent a lot of time and my parents' money trying to learn everything." At 13, he made a deal with the shop owner to work in trade for learning magic.

White continued there throughout his high school days at St. Joseph's Prep - as well as while studying art history and painting at Temple University - ultimately for pay in addition to mentoring.

A move to New York in 2005 to study at Sotheby's Institute of Art led to making friends with other magicians.

"The magic scene is quite small, so if you know 10 magicians, you sort of know all magicians," said White, who now lives in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. His first real breakthrough came in 2006, when he spent a year consulting with Blaine on his Drowned Alive and Dive of Death specials. "Trying to deceive the entire country is really difficult," he conceded. He's particularly proud of a trick he called "lit," where a pack of matches someone has been holding turns into a playing card.

That was about the time White met Jonathan Bayme, founder of theory11, an instructional magic website, and now producer of his show at the NoMad. Bayme appreciated White's take on magic as a sophisticated art form that was intellectual and smooth, not cheesy or hokey.

"Dan's unique in that he is fully capable of creating magic and consulting with others, but can also perform with his own voice," Bayme said. "He's not too serious, trying to be this character that he's not. He's authentic."

White likes to be referred to as a "mentalist."

"With mentalism, you are looking at how people behave - magic of the mind - trying to understand people's thoughts and behaviors," he said.

His performances also rely heavily on his art background. In his work on the West tour, he said, "it's not just about doing a good trick or being deceptive as a magician. It's also about creating an environment, a mood, and a visually appealing atmosphere."

He likes to think outside the box - for almost two years, diners at New York's Eleven Madison Park ended their $225, 12- to 15-course meal with a magic trick created by White and Bayme. After customers received their dessert, the waiter approached the table and spread out a deck of cards, each containing one ingredient of the dessert. The diners picked one.

Then: Under their plate was another plate - not only with a piece of chocolate containing the chosen ingredient, but also the ingredient written in chocolate.

The aim of White's current show at NoMad is to make a David Copperfield experience for an audience of a thousand work in a small room of 70 to 80.

"I want you to feel the same way that you would feel if I came up to you and did a magic trick, but being in a crowd," he said, conceding that commanding a big room for almost two hours makes him nervous.

One of his twists on a traditional trick: He takes an audience member's phone, writes the name of a city into their map app, then asks someone else to name a city. "It always matches," he said.

When White comes back to Philadelphia to visit family, he often performs magic at his brother's restaurants, Bar Ferdinand and El Camino Real in Northern Liberties.

Of course, a magician will never reveal his tricks, but math, statistics, probability, and psychology all come into play. "That - mixed with deception, sleight of hand, and distraction - altogether make a good illusion," he said.

It doesn't stop bad things from happening: hecklers, someone fainting, an important person in the show having to leave.

But Copperfield himself has given White advice for these situations.

Have a Plan B. And C.

And D.