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Review: The Illusionists

by Photo of Paul Hansen

‘The Illusionists’ returns to Broadway.

Review: The Illusionists

The Illusionists has conjured its way back to Broadway.   After a very successful holiday season engagement last year, the show re-opened at the Neil Simon Theatre last week with some returning and new cast members.

The show features seven master illusionists.  Each of the magicians is given a nickname - The Daredevil, The Deceptionist, The Unusualist, etc.  

Jeff Hobson as the aptly named The Trickster basically functions as the MC of the evening.  His performance highlights a major strength of the show - it is often quite funny. There is a lot of audience participation in the production and Hobson is quite inventive in hilariously ad-libbing with audience members.  Perhaps because they also had nicknames (The Joker, The Riddler, etc.), the campiness of Hobson's performance reminded me of the over-the-top flamboyant villains in the old 1960's Adam West Batman TV series.     

In a variation of Houdini's famous stunt, Jonathan Goodwin  (The Daredevil) is hung upside down while he attempts to escape from a straight jacket which has been put on fire.  These aren't small flames either.  I could feel the heat from the fire from where I was sitting in the middle orchestra.  

America's Got Talent veteran Dan Sperry (The Anti-Conjuror)  is also in the show.  His tricks involving razors in the mouth, a coin in the eye, and gashes in the arm are not for the squeamish. Also in the seemingly violent category,  James More -The Deceptionist - delivers the illusion of being impaled and sawed in half, and Adam Trent - The Futurist - seemingly demolishes an audience member's cell phone.          

Also featured is young Yu Ho-Jin (The Manipulator)  who was named Magician of the Year by the Academy of Magical Arts in 2014. His performance has a decided artistic quality, as if he is performing a ballet with his hands and his dancing partner is a deck of cards.  

I was in Las Vegas recently and saw a TV ad for a magic show featuring a helicopter.  David Copperfield famously made the Statue of Liberty "disappear."  None of the tricks in The Illusionists aspires to that epochal level.  In fact, many of the illusions may not have been appreciated by the audience unless a video camera projected them on to a large screen above the stage.  The smaller scale of some of the acts gives the show a certain intimate quality. 

The production also has a sensitive side as well. Towards the end,  Raymond Crowe - The Unusualist - performs a detailed, poignant shadow puppet play to a recording of Louis Armstrong's rendition of "It's a Wonderful World."  The lighting for the production by Jared A. Sayeg does give the impression of entering a special, magical zone and the music by Evan Jolly accentuates suspense.   

The Illusionists is well timed for the Holidays and, considering the tension in the news, we could all use a little break from reality.  It would be so delightful if the right magician came along and made the world's problems disappear like a rabbit down a hat.

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