Teen magician helps other kids shine

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Littleton won’t be able to call Derek McKee its favorite teen magician much longer, because he won’t be a teen much longer.

The 19-year-old graduated from Heritage High School in the spring and will soon be off to the University of California, Los Angeles, to study business and marketing as he prepares to pursue his magical ambitions on the West Coast.

“I’m excited for him to go, but I’m going to miss him,” said his proud mom, Sharon McKee, after his performance at Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center on July 6. The occasion was a fundraiser for the theater’s youth programs, designed to give young people a place to express themselves creatively, expand their appreciation of the arts and develop artistic skills.

“We open up new worlds for children by providing experience and guidance in a professional setting,” reads THAC’s website.

The kids are rehearsing now to perform the school version of “Grease,” running July 12-20. THAC also offers a variety of workshops on everything from stage combat to physical comedy.

With his own youthful energy shining, McKee gave several kids some time in the spotlight during his performance. He even decked out one young lady in his “Derek McKee lookalike kit.” He stuck his hands through the sleeves and coached her through some tricks while whispering in her ear what to say.

“You’re clapping like you see this every day, so now I will keep doing this trick until you like it,” she giggled to the audience after a making a handkerchief appear.

McKee’s magical journey started when he was about her age, just 6 years old, and many of his inspirations were the audience. His grandma, known as Gaga, got the ball rolling by buying him a Lance Burton magic set.

“Yes, I have a Lady Gaga in my life,” he said. (Perhaps that explains his flair for performing?)

Gaga said she’s amazed at her grandson’s talent.

“I just want the best for him,” she said. “He’s a lovely person.”

His love for the magic set inspired his other grandparents, who sold the old Western Wardrobe building to Reinke Bros., to take him to visit the Reinke store and its magic counter.

“Derek’s just a joy,” said his grandma. “Most of the rest of our grandkids tend to be quiet, but Derek’s just bubbly. He always gives us a lot of pleasure.”

He became a regular fixture at Reinke’s, and credits that with much of his success. McKee calls resident magician Richard Nakata his mentor — Nakata opened the show for him, and McKee has never done a show without the mysterious cup-and-ball trick Nakata taught him, using the cups he handed down to him.

“He’s had lots of great things and lots of good people helping him,” said his mom. “Littleton is great, but it’s time for him to broaden his horizons.”

At 11, McKee became the youngest person ever to compete at the World Magic Teen Competition in Las Vegas. Two years later, as he prepared to compete there for the third time, a production company decided to film a documentary based on it. “Make Believe” won in its category at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and McKee was on his way.

His great-grandma is sure he’ll be on TV again soon.

“I’m a great-grandma who is very proud,” she said. “I hope he fulfills his dreams.”

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