Party planners Jian and Page Magen rule the GTA Bar Mitzvah scene. Now, after 13 years in business—l’chaim!—they’re ready to rock the world.
On a rainy Saturday night in April, just after 10:00 p.m., Jian and Page Magen roll up to the back door of the posh Richmond Hill Country Club. “Did anyone see us?” Jian asks, killing the engine on his BMW SUV. The aim was to make a stealthy entrance—a tricky task for 35-year-old identical twins in bejeweled sneakers, candy-coloured T-shirts, iridescent jackets, and oversized shades.
If the Magen brothers’ party outfits look like some child’s fantasy of celebrity—the kind of thing a fictional hip-hop star might wear on the Disney Channel—it’s by design. Inside, a brother and sister duo are celebrating a joint B’nai Mitzvah, a transition to adulthood with an “NHL Winter Classic” theme, hockey paraphernalia centrepieces, and a roomful of 13-year-olds amped on dessert, ready to stay up late and jump around to a choice selection of Top 40 hits.
Magen Boys Entertainment, the brothers’ Vaughan-based company, produces corporate parties, weddings, fundraisers, and many, many Bar and Bat Mitzvahs like tonight’s event—over 400 of them last year. The Magens have 15 full-time employees and a rolling roster of hundreds of dancers, singers, DJs, and MCs who rotate through the city’s banquet halls and country clubs, leading conga lines and warming up dance floors. They’ve flown in members of the Black Eyed Peas, brought in Beyoncé’s backup dancers, hired athletes and rock bands, concocted elaborately themed stag parties, and MC’d intimate dinners.
At a time when celebrations from weddings to sweet-16s are becoming more and more lavish, when six figures is not an unheard of sum to shell out for a blow-out bash, the brothers have cornered the Mitzvah market. “They’re the number one entertainment group,” says Barbara Rudberg, the publisher of Toronto’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah Guide. “They’ve become the company to call.” It’s common wisdom: If you want to ensure your son or daughter comes of age in style, you get the Magen Boys.
That evening in April, the brothers have nine events on the slate, a typical Saturday for the company during the high season. Though the Magens themselves aren’t scheduled to make an appearance in Richmond Hill, they are crashing the party as a surprise to the family, who they’ve known for years. “We like to give our clients a little bit extra,” Jian explains.
The twins’ philosophy has brought them a long way. This is their 13th year in business—they’re throwing a Bar Mitzvah for themselves sometime soon—and the brothers have become restless. They’ve got their fingers in all sorts of strange pies: co-owners of what they hope will become a booming franchise of sub shops, organizers of celebrity events, film producers of The Sheik, a new documentary about ’80s wrestler the Iron Sheik. The Magen Boys are ambitiously branching out, looking for fresh opportunities. Still, it’s tough to leave the thing you’re so great at.
As the song ends, Jian puts on his party hat—an exact replica of the oversized topper Pharrell Williams made famous at the Grammys. Both brothers pick up cordless microphones. “So basically we’re going to go in there and just get everyone hyped,” Jian says confidently. In the small universe of GTA Jewish tweens, the Magens are celebrities. The trick, now, is to take that notoriety to the rest of the world.
The Magens are born hustlers. They grew up in Thornhill feeling vaguely out of place, Iranian Jews with funny names and ADD-energy who were relegated to the special-ed classroom after being bombarded with a confusing mishmash of Farsi and French immersion for the first years of their lives. By 10, they had a paper route and by 12 they had a business in sports trading cards—investing in rookies, hedging their bets by buying packs, and honing their negotiation skills at flea markets where they’d argue with grown men about what did and did not constitute “mint” condition.
At 16, they began throwing parties. They would rent out the Comfort Zone, that iconically scuzzy Spadina party den, hire DJs, get permits, and then promote like crazy, relentlessly flyering the high schools of North Toronto. The events were a hit.
Then, after a series of unlucky investments and a lurch in their parents’ carpet business, the Magen family (the twins also have a sister) was forced to move from its comfortable suburban house into a North Toronto apartment. The brothers became breadwinners, earning cash along with a reputation in teenage circles north of the city as the twins who partied. When the mother of a girl who had been at one of their parties insisted that they DJ her younger daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, the Magens took the job. They burnt some CDs and schlepped rental speakers to an uptown event space. A decade and thousands of Bar Mitzvahs later, they bought the spot—a small addition to their growing business.
At the country club, watching the brothers in action, it’s clear why their services are in demand. The banquet hall has been transformed into a nightclub for tweens, with lights, fog machines, and cameras that probe into the crowd, projecting what is happening onto the huge video screens mounted on either side of stage. The Magen employees—the DJ and tech guys, dancers and MCs with stage names like SLYNKY or The Terminator—are cool, far from the dorky stereotype of the Bar Mitzvah DJ.
For kids who are bombarded with pop songs about “partying all night” but armed with only the foggiest idea of what that might entail, it is the ideal simulation—a 13-year-old daydream of an after-party, with radio-friendly versions of “Blurred Lines” and a half-dozen hip-hop dancers dressed as referees, in keeping with the hockey theme, moving with cheerful, PG-13 sexiness. (Editor’s note: Launch the photo gallery at the top of this page for scenes from the party.)
Up on stage, Jian works the room. “Did you guys come here to party tonight?” he asks. The kids roar their approval. “I said, did you guys come here to party tonight?” he repeats, as Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” kicks in. “Make some noise! C’mon!” Throughout the night, the brothers are in constant motion, disappearing backstage and emerging with new novelty items. An oversized pink mustache! A WWE-style belt, which Page promises to the “party person of the night!” It looks, frankly, exhausting.
At one point, Jian brings the Bar Mitzvah boy on stage so he can “crowd surf.” The kid lies back with a shy smile while Jian personally carts him through the hall, hoisting him above his thin-armed peers, before safely depositing him back on stage. Moments later, Jian emerges from a hidden corner lugging a heavy canister of gas, a look of concentration on his face. As the song ends, he climactically shoots a blast of fog into the air from the centre of the dance floor. “Everybody having a good time make some noise!” he shouts. “We want everybody to be having the best time, of all time.”
The twins like to talk about how you’re only as good as your last event, a phrase that feels like a trite cliché until you consider the grim possibility of standing up on stage and bombing in front of a crowd of teenagers. Thirteen-year-olds are strange creatures—children suddenly consumed by a burning desire to be cool. They have surprisingly doctrinaire opinions, eager to defend their fragile, nascent tastes, ready to declare at the drop of a hat that something sucks. This is one of the last times it will be okay to break dance with your uncle or do the robot with your grandmother. The whole point of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, after all, is to become an adult in the eyes of your community, to leave childish things behind. If you’re the Magen Boys, it’s hard not to wonder: What happens when you get up on stage in your multicoloured T-shirt and find the kids have moved on?
A few years ago, after a decade in the business, the brothers took stock of their situation. “We said: How long can this run last?” Jian tells me. “Ten years is pretty long for a company like this, in what I guess you could call a young man’s game.”
It’s a few weeks after the Richmond Hill B’nai Mitzvah and we are sitting in the living room of Jian’s new house at Lawrence and Avenue Road, a room he describes as his “man cave,” but which more than anything looks like the dream hideout of a teenager from the ’80s: wrestling action figures four deep on the shelves, an arcade game in the corner, a framed photo of Chevy Chase doing Weekend Update on the wall.
The brothers are out of their party gear and impatiently waiting for the Iron Sheik to get on a plane in Atlanta and start his Toronto press tour. The Magens have known the wrestler since they were kids. Their father was a top table-tennis player in Iran from the ’50s to the ’70s and had been friends with the Sheik when he was an Iranian wrestling champion. In the ’80s, whenever the WWF came to town, the heroes would have dinner at the Magen house, allowing the star-struck twins to hang out with Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Nikolai Volkoff. Wrestling, they say, is where they got their flair for showmanship.
Eight years ago, the Magens began managing the Sheik, putting his over-the-top rants on YouTube, crafting his popular, comically offensive Twitter account, pushing him onto Howard Stern’s radio show, and doing whatever they could to drum up publicity. During the height of the Rob Ford madness last fall—when any huckster could wander down to City Hall to deliver his message to the banks of international cameras hungry for more crackpottery—the Magens inserted themselves into the fray, urging the Sheik to challenge the mayor to an arm wrestle. Not one to waste a good promotional opportunity, soon after they sent another former wrestler, Brutus the Barber Beefcake, to hawk Belly Buster subs to the press corps. (The brothers are co-owners of two expansion outlets of the North Toronto submarine joint.)
Between the sub shops and the Iron Sheik doc—which opened at Hot Docs in late April with camels, bikinied models, and two mayoral candidates desperately trying to edge their way in front of the cameras—the Magens are moving beyond the small-scale party business. The way they see it, the Mitzvahs were just the first things that hit. What about another movie? Or a comedy club, somewhere with flash and glitz? “All these things are opening up the world of entertainment,” Jian says.
Like the kids they shepherd to adulthood each weekend, the Magens are in a period of transition—an exciting, welcome, and mildly terrifying process. Now they’re producing big corporate events and major charity fundraisers. They organized an after party at the Grammys in Los Angeles, and are hosting weddings for kids who had a Magen Bar Mitzvah 13 years ago.
But at what point, in the world of upscale corporate entertainment, does your ability to rock a party of teenaged kids change from an asset to a liability? Can you be mainstream entertainment impresarios and the kings of the Bar Mitzvah circuit? The Magens brothers are still figuring that out.
At the Richmond Hill Country Club, the Magens cue up a classic. As the opening riff of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” rings out, the lyrics appear on the screens. “We want everybody to please sing along,” Jian says. “Sing at the top of your lungs, all the way through the night.”
The dance floor is packed, uneaten plates of steak left on the tables. The adults sing, women swaying in one another’s arms. A young girl clings to her dad, exhausted. The boys—tiny kids in ironed button-downs—obediently chant the words to this dated anthem about a small-town girl and a city boy born and raised in south Detroit. Do they know the original—released in 1981, 20 years before they were born? Have they heard the Glee version? Or is it only familiar from other Magen Boys productions, the Bar Mitzvah circuit creating its own insular mini-culture?
Whatever the case, they’re feeling it. The Magens know their business. In a kid’s dream idea of a party—assembled from movies and TV shows and god knows what else—you need a moment of catharsis. You want to conjure that insta-nostalgia 13-year-olds are so eager to enjoy, the exquisitely melancholy knowledge that this moment will never exist again. Or, at least, not until the next Bar Mitzvah.
“We want you to have the best time, of all time,” Jian says. And just because he’s said it a million times before doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
Bubbielicious: The Bar-Mitzvah Jam Hall of Fame
Compiled by Stuart Berman
“Hava Nagila” (duh), traditional (1918) *
“Time Warp,” Rocky Horror Picture Show Soundtrack (1975)
“YMCA,” The Village People (1978)
“We Are Family,” Sister Sledge (1979)
“Celebration,” Kool & The Gang (1980)
“(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right to Party,” Beastie Boys (1986) *
“Mony Mony” (profane crowd-participation version, natch), Billy Idol (1987)
“Cotton Eye Joe,” Rednex (1994)
“I Gotta Feeling,” Black Eyed Peas (2009)
“Moves Like Jagger,” Maroon 5 (2011) *
* = sung by actual Jews!