'That Physics Show' Makes Science Even Cooler Than Magic

12/1/15 - By Raven Snook

While this season is all about the great holiday theater for kids, not everyone is into swans, bears and Nutcrackers. Maybe your tyke prefers jet packs and a bed of nails instead?

That Physics Show is an awesome and educational production that has absolutely nothing to do with the holidays, but that doesn't make it any less spectacular. Veteran Rutgers University physics demonstrator David Maiullo doesn't need glitz, glamor or glitter to wow school-age kids with his amazing experiments as he makes balloons burst into flame, soda cans crack and lasers light up the room. Some of the demos are so incredible you may feel like you're watching a magic show. But all of his "tricks" are actually just science, which is the most mind-blowing reveal of all.


Kids love when David Maiullo dissects the room with colorful lasers.

Admittedly, That Physics Show is mounted on a shoestring budget in a small black-box theater with prerecorded music and no set or costumes for Maiullo or his hardworking assistant, Kelsey Lane Dies. But Maiullo's infectious enthusiasm (this guy lives for science) and cool demos make up for the low production values. Sure, you could probably see many of these experiments on YouTube, but they are much more impressive live, especially because no seat is more than 10 or so feet from the stage.

In many ways, it feels like a magic show. The stage is strewn with strange contraptions that Maiullo uses for his "tricks" that show concepts like motion, momentum, friction, energy, sound and light waves, and temperature in action. However, unlike magicians who fanatically guard the secrets to their illusions, Maiullo shares how everything works. He fills balloons up with hydrogen then lights a match to blow them up. He lies on a bed of nails and even has a kid stand on top of him, then explains why it doesn't hurt. He uses a fire extinguisher as a jet pack to propel himself across the stage on a go-cart. His use of common household items makes the experiments even more appealing to kids. I heard quite a few, including my own, beg: "Mom, can I try that when I get home?!"

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Maiullo shows off his makeshift fire extinguisher jet pack.

Maiullo is an adorkable chatterbox who knows how to engage the audience, especially kids. Before each experiment, he asks for predictions and by the end of the show, even shy children are calling out theories. For science buffs, the outcomes may be obvious. But for those of us who are physics challenged (I correctly guessed three results out of about 30 demos), it's as eye opening as it is eye-popping.

Although Maiullo talks in layman's terms, That Physics Show is best for tweens. Younger children won't be able to follow what's going on (Maiullo packs so much science into 80 minutes, I didn't always understand the context of each demo), plus there are multiple explosions and loud noises. Teens might enjoy it too, though some might find it too goofy.

By the end, the stage is a mess of popped balloons, burnt Rice Krispies and a variety of detritus. As Maiullo is fond of saying, "Science is all about breaking things!" Of course, the one thing science shouldn't break is the bank. At $30 per ticket, That Physics Show is a bit pricey, but you can snag $20 seats via Broadwaybox.

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Even though Maiullo's assistant, Kelsey, proves you can lie comfortably on a bed of nails, don't try this at home!

Afterward, there's no need to flee Times Square. Grab a meal at one of these family-friendly, non-chain restaurants and then explore nearby kid attractions like Bryant Park, where you can ice-skate for FREE (if you bring your own skates) and browse the holiday market.

That Physics Show is playing through Saturday, January 2, 2016 at the Playroom Theater, 151 West 46th Street between Broadway and Sixth Avenue on the 8th floor.

Photos by Donnell Culver/courtesy of That Physics Show.

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