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Published: Wednesday, 1/16/2008

Toledo family makes magic on 'Wife Swap'


For his latest trick, local magician Andrew Martin-Portala didn't just make his wife disappear. He swapped her.

In this age of reality television, all of it was caught on tape, of course, and will be replayed for a national audience when Martin-Portala and his family are featured on the Jan. 23 episode of ABC's Wife Swap. It will be broadcast locally at 8 p.m. on WTVG-TV, Channel 13.

In the show, two women with different values trade families for two weeks, living by the other woman's guidelines for the first week then setting their own rules.

The West Toledo family didn't apply for the show but was contacted by producers seeking a magician to participate.

"We contacted magicians through agents, variety shows, and Web pages and had talked to several families until we found the Martin-Portalas and knew that we had hit the jackpot," said Stef Wagstaffe, Wife Swap's executive producer.

She said the local family was cast to make some TV magic because of its charm, humor, and because the whole household is involved in magic. It was an offer Martin-Portala, 46, was eager to accept.

"I've always felt that I was supposed to be on TV," he said. "You never know who's going to see it, what will happen."

His family revolves around magic. It's how he makes a living - performing at restaurants, parties, and other events - and it's a passion adopted by his 11-year-old son Eli Portala, who does shows as well. His wife, Melissa Portala, manages their careers and daughter Emma Portala, 9, often serves as her brother's assistant.

For next week's episode, which was taped in March, Melissa, 44, swapped places with a caterer/event planner from California who micromanages the lives of her husband and two children and prides herself in a spotless home.

"I call them the perfectionist family," Melissa said. "They wanted to appear perfect to the outside world."

While she tried to help them learn to relax, spend more quality time together, and, of course, put on a magic show, Andrew struggled with a new "wife" who disapproved of his career path.

"She took all my magic equipment and locked it up in the basement," he said. "And she told me that I'm living in a fantasy world, I should get in touch with reality, I'm not making it as a magician."

Things came to a head after the California mom installed a fence in the front yard and Andrew smashed into it with his SUV.

"That's what everybody's going to talk about," he said. "I was confined. I couldn't do any magic, something that I love. It was getting all bottled up, so running down the fence was like a sign of freedom."

No hard feelings for this family, though. Melissa said she had a wonderful time, and Andrew even kept a piece of the fence as a symbol.

"I think it's a good episode," he said. "The Wife Swap people said I come across as the hero because I've followed my heart. I followed my passion. This is who I am. Why change me?"

Contact Ryan E. Smith at: ryansmith@theblade.com or 419-724-6103.

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