Tomáš Kubínek is not only an acrobat, storyteller, magician, and comedian, he’s one of the most dedicated performers and kindest humans being I’ve met in a long time. In addition to his thrilling one-man shows, Kubínek does a lot of pro bono work for detention centers and performances for young audiences – he did a morning show for Big Island school kids at the Kahilu prior to an evening concert last Wednesday.
Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia, Mr. Kubínek, 53, entertained nearly 500 students – some still in kindergarten. The one-hour show was filled with magic tricks, contests, and non-stop fun and laughter. He even opened it up to Q&A near the end.
“Is it true you were smuggled out of a country when you were little?,” asked a young female student in the crowd. Kubínek paused for a second to reflect, and responded, “It’s true!” He then talked about being three-years-old when the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia took place and fleeing the country with his family. They eventually ended up in Canada.
Events from his early childhood make their way into his regular show. For example, the time that he and his seven brothers and sisters visited his great-grandmother. As a treat, she gave them one piece of candy to share – each taking 10-second licks before passing it down to the youngest, Tomáš. While the candy conveyor belt process occurred, Kubínek said his great-grandmother played old opera records on a hand-cranked gramophone. Demonstrating the sound of an old scratchy record by brilliantly crinkling a noisy candy wrapper, he sang opera in a high-pitched nasally voice – occasionally changing speed and repetitiously getting stuck in a groove.
Kubínek‘s act isn’t just odd facial expressions and physical humor, he does a bit of improv too, which he refers to as “clown jazz.” Exiting the stage, he climbed through crowd balancing his small frame on the skinny theatre armrests, along the way having fun with some German tourists. Eventually he selected a tall physically fit man to climb upon back on stage.
“The dance of the six shoes” segement involves Kubínek strapping four shoes bolted onto struts to his knees. Cinematic orchestral music plays as he parades his “walking machine” contraption across the stage – it’s like watching an old jittery Kinetoscope film, one frame at a time.
Another nearly impossible stunt features Kubínek balancing a glass of red wine on his forehead, which he says is so big he calls it his “fivehead.” While whistling “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie” and strumming his 1920 La Melodia Banjo-lele, Kubínek does a complete backward somersault and, without spilling a drop of wine or using his hands, he ends with drinking the glass empty.
Perhaps the most spectacular feat comes near the end of the show. Sporting old aviator goggles and a helmet cap, and with the aid of a harness and a few beefy stagehands to suspend him, Kubínek flew clock-wise above the Kahilu’s stage. His huge yellow wings unfurled an impressive visual that drew cheers and applause.
Kubínek disrobed to an over-sized white nightshirt and reduced his size by inserting his bare feet inside the arm sleeves. Carrying a lit candle and his trusty banjo-lele, the entertainer closed out the evening by singing “The Song Is Ended (But The Melody Lingers On),” a tune made popular by Irving Berlin in 1927.
Just as the crowd was starting to leave, Kubínek came out to shake hands, sign programs, and take a few photos. There’s no formal meet-n-greet or merchandise to buy at his shows. When I asked why, he responded sincerely, “When I committed to becoming a performer, I told myself I’d only make money from the performance, and nothing else.”
Kubínek embodies a little spark of madness, and that’s what makes his memorable show so genuine and appealing.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby
Read my interview with Kubínek here: https://bigislandmusic.net/talking-story-with-tomas-kubinek/