A night at the theatre generally requires some “theatrical magic” to bring a show to life — costumes, lights, sets, props, music — but now there is some real magic taking to the stage as The Illusionists Live From Broadway bring their show of wonder and awe to audiences across the country and around the world.
The Illusionists brings together seven world class magicians, manipulators, conjurers, tricksters and sharp-shooters to perform their specialties throughout the show, some classic magical illusions, some true tests of skill. And it’s all held together by one of the funniest MC’s you could hope for. The acts consists of both big set pieces and smaller, close-up magic tricks that the entire audience can experience with the aid of a large video screen over the stage and roaming camera crew to catch every moment.
The Illusionists had a successful run on Broadway with a slightly different lineup of performers and illusions, but a few of them are taking on the US tour. Some get a bit more stage time than others, but they all do some spectacular work. Each also has a gimmicky name to describe their field of expertise.
“The Escapologist” (Andrew Basso) only appears on stage once during the show, but he closes out the first act in spectacular fashion performing Houdini’s infamous Water Torture Cell in which he is handcuffed, shackled and placed head first into a tank of water with only a paper clip to get himself free. You’ll probably find yourself holding your breath almost as long as he does (and at the opening night, he went for nearly three-and-a-half minutes).
“The Deceptionist” (James More) doesn’t appear until the second act performing some of the bigger — and well-known — illusions which are made a bit more magical when the video camera clearly shows him tied down inside one of his large pieces only seconds before a rack of flaming blades plunges down on him. Does he make it out in one piece? That you’ll have to see for yourself.
“The Weapon Master” (Ben Blaque) also doesn’t appear until the second act. Blaque may be familiar to TV viewers who may have caught his act on America’s Got Talent. He’s not a real illusionist, but a skilled master of the crossbow. You may think that he’s just got a good aim, but when he shoots over his shoulder with the aid of a cell phone camera, and blindfolded — with six crossbows set for a chain reaction to shoot an apple on his head — you will be impressed.
“The Manipulator” (Yu Ho-Jin) is a master of manipulating a silk scarf into playing cards and back again, while also producing hundreds of cards throughout the illusion seemingly out of nowhere. He appears in the first act and then does an encore which is tailored to whichever city the show is in. Watching him really makes you want to say “how’d he do that?”
“The Inventor” (Kevin James) is known for creating many of his own illusions, and can tackle both large set pieces and intimate close-up magic, such as making a ball of paper dance around on his hand and arm (with the help of an assistant from the audience), then levitating it, before turning it into a rose. He also has some bigger pieces throughout the show including bringing a dummy to life and a twist on cutting someone in half.
“The Anti-Conjurer” (Dan Sperry) also made a memorable appearance on America’s Got Talent and he is one of the most memorable performers in the show. With his Marilyn Manson/Joker makeup and edgy but funny attitude, Sperry really steals the show with his twisted humor and cringe-inducing illusions that usually involve doing something skin-crawling with his own body. If you like the macabre, you’ll love this guy.
“The Trickster” (Jeff Hobson) is the MC of the show, and he does his own brand of close-up magic leavened with a very wicked sense of humor (think Rip Taylor crossed with Paul Lynde with a dash of magic). Hobson spends a lot of time interacting with the audience, bringing several members on to the stage with him throughout the show, culminating in a hilarious bit where he tries to teach a hapless person how to do the egg bag trick.
While everyone is excellent at what they do, Sperry and Hobson are the show’s true standouts, probably because they get the most time on stage. I found Sperry fascinating and disturbing with his unsettling makeup and somewhat aggressive attitude, but he was very entertaining. Hobson, I could watch an entire show with just him. His comic timing is perfection and he can really hold the audience in the palm of his hand. Now that is a true feat of magic.
The Illusionists is a highly choreographed, fast-paced show that seems to go by much too quickly, leaving you wanting a lot more by the time it’s over. But that’s a good thing because no one wants to leave a show feeling like they wasted two hours of their evening. If you enjoy magic, illusions, some laughs and death defying stunts, be sure to check out The Illusionists when they come to a city near you.
The Illusionists is currently on stage in Baltimore at the historic Hippodrome Theatre thru April 3. Other cities on the US tour include Fort Myers, Portland, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Atlanta, Orlando, Miami, New Orleans, Austin, Memphis, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Boston, Denver and many more. Tour information and tickets are available at Hotchka affiliate Ticketmaster.com.