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The Best Kids’-Party Entertainers in New York

Photo-Illustration: by Curbed; Photos Getty Images

To find the kids’-party entertainers on this list, we talked to dozens of savvy New York parents, including an interior designer, a Top Chef judge, and the editor-in-chief of The Toy Insider. They recommended entertainers who will turn any celebration into an unforgettable party, including a magician with a rabbit sidekick named Marshmallow, a bubble artist with a talent for bubble cubes, and a speedy balloon expert who won’t leave your antsy kids waiting and waiting in line.

For a Top-Notch Magic Show

Magical Dave,

Better known by his stage name, Magical Dave, Dave Nieder is a sixth-grade math teacher who moonlights as a beloved children’s magician when school is out. In his 35 years of performing, he has entertained the kids of Annie Leibovitz, Tom Colicchio, and Ayda Field. With the help of Marshmallow, his white rabbit sidekick, he performs a 40-minute show (starting at $650) with the option to add a magic workshop in which he teaches kids how to do a few of his professional tricks. To kick off the show, the birthday kid waves a wand to make Marshmallow appear before Nieder launches into his routine; he adjusts his shows for the age of his audience and makes sure his tricks are accessible and inclusive for children of all abilities. “Without fail, there were smiles on the kids’ faces the whole time,” says serial entrepreneur Jenny Fleiss, who hired him for her son’s 8th-birthday party in a last-minute moment of booking serendipity the day before. In a lounge in Fleiss’s apartment building, Nieder handed out magic wands to all the kids and brought the birthday boy up front for a special trick, only for kids 8 and up, in which he pretended to saw off the kid’s arm with a sword. “It was a super-interactive show,” Fleiss says, noting that the nice combination of silliness and professional magic was what raised Magical Dave a “notch above” other performers.

For a Cereal Party

Stomach-Time Storytelling,

Competitive eater Crazy Legs Conti and his business partner, Shawn Wickens, host what they describe as “stomach-time storytelling” — i.e., food-themed birthday parties involving everything from pasta to cereal to birthday cake. They ensure that each event is educational even as the kids are encouraged to play with their food (at a pasta-themed party, for instance, guests hurled noodles at the ceiling to see which shape would stick the longest, learning about cooking methods like al dente in the process. Fettuccine won.) The duo begins each party by telling a story (sometimes a play on a classic fairy tale that incorporates the food, other times a more educational anecdote about healthy eating choices) before descending into chaos, encouraging guests to throw cake against the walls to hear the satisfying squish of frosting splatter or to toss cookies in the air to rate the crumble factor when they hit the ground. For interior designer Christiane Lemieux’s daughter’s 10th-birthday party, they collaborated on a cereal event in which the pair guided the kids through creating their own mix while explaining how cereal is made, including how grains are grown and processed. With his handlebar mustache and energetic personality (and sometimes a cape), Conti immediately draws kids in, but Lemieux says his true gift is for taking children seriously. “Kids love him because he speaks to them in a thoughtful, respectful way,” she says.

For Bubbles

The Bubble Dad,;

Late one night in 2015, Chris Catanese was outside his West Village apartment blowing large intricate bubbles (a hobby he picked up for fun after his son requested a bubble-themed birthday party) when an event planner passed by and booked him on the spot for an upcoming fête at Brooklyn Bridge Park. In the eight years since, Catanese has built a full-time career of making bubbles. For the under-three crowd, he warms up the audience by blowing a handful of small bubbles, then builds to more sophisticated tricks, like producing a cube inside a bubble and, delightfully, Frozen’s Olaf in bubbles. “He’s like the Bill Nye of bubbles,” says Lauren Jarvis, who has hired him for her son’s past four birthday parties and a performance at his school. “He feeds off the crowd. He’ll see what they like and keep going in that direction,” concocting bubbles inside bubbles, showering her yard with “millions of bubbles,” and blowing smoke into bubbles. “Bubbles are magical, joyful things no matter what age you are,” says Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, who experienced the BubbleDad at her son’s friend’s birthday party last spring and has him in mind for the next party she hosts. She says the biggest crowd-pleaser came when Catanese stretched a bubble around nine children, engulfing them in an eight-by-five-foot shimmering force field of soap. All the parents sitting on the edge of the backyard cheered and screamed alongside the kids when it burst, Simmons says, in a moment of “total joy and elation.”


Ask a Bubble-Maker

Chris “BubbleDad” Catanese, a birthday-party entertainer, based in Astoria

Illustration: Pete Gamlen

Is there a brand of bubbles you recommend?
The best I’ve found for home use is from Target or Dollar Tree. Do eight parts of that stuff to one part Dawn dish soap, and it’ll make way bigger bubbles than ones you’re probably used to.

It has to be Dawn?
Well, this is weird, but the classic blue Dawn was the gold standard for bubble performers for decades. But a few years back, they changed the formula. One weekend, all my performers were texting, “The bubbles are small! They’re popping really quickly!” The bubble community was abuzz. So now, after testing everything available, I can tell you the best is Dawn Antibacterial, but it has to be the apple-blossom or orange-scented one. I have no idea why.

Have you ever slipped while performing?
Oh, yeah. You need wind moving through the wand to make a bubble. And if there’s no wind, you have to walk backward to force air through the wand. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stumbled over equipment doing that.

Are there bubble tricks that always go over well?
It depends on the audience. Little kids don’t care about tricks. They just want bubbles they can pop. School-age kids are more interested, and for them I start incorporating basic math and science. But it’s adults who are most amazed. I’ve done events where it was just me putting grown-ups into six-foot bubbles all night.

Katie Arnold-Ratliff

For Balloon Fairy Wings, Captain Hook Hats, and Baby Yodas

Illuminated Faces,

Plenty of children’s entertainers will paint faces and make balloon animals, but none has the patience, speed, and originality of Tommi May. Her intricately formed balloon creations go well beyond “the same old balloon garland everyone’s done,” says Marissa Silva, editor-in-chief of The Toy Insider. “Tommi doesn’t do anything by the book. She presents these original ideas she hand-sketches so we know we’re getting an installation that’s totally different from anything else out there.” Parents also praise May for her speed, dependability, and bubbly personality. “When you’re working with little kids, balloons can’t take 20 minutes each,” says Tamsyn Johnston, founder of Friendly Faces 4 Kids, who has hired May for two of her son’s birthday parties. The level of detail in her Star Wars–themed balloons was “phenomenal,” Johnston says, and May’s tolerance for ever-changing requests from 4-year-old guests with popped-balloon-induced tears made Johnston an immediate fan. “We had multiple parents at the party ask us for her contact information,” she says.

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