Review by Daniel Dunlow
24 November 2015
Magic, Illusion, Trickery– All aspects that have a deep-rooted foundation in essential elements of theatricality. Theatre and drama operate on assumptions. The piece presents you with characters, situations, or relationships that you recognize as true and then makes claims outside of that truth that the audience had agreed to. If the character is recognized as real, and undeniably true, then situations and reactions that are presented later, as strange as it may be, by the transitive property, must be true. We see the relationship between the family dynamic set up between Norman Bates and his mother as recognizably true early in the film, therefore we are challenged to believe that the strange events that occur later are equally as true. This challenging of the audiences mind is what makes Magic and Illusion in performance riveting. The Illusionists is a wonderful exercise in theatricality, wonder, and belief.
The show is presented, sans-narrative, as seven of the world’s greatest magician all doing what they do best; The Unusualist, The Daredevil, The Trickster, The Manipulator, The Deceptionist, The Anti-Conjuror, and The Futurist. For the most part, the magic acts stick to their title and perform with show-stopping energy and command. Unfortunately, the magic act is accompanied by superfluous, and frankly asinine, dancing and expensive spectacle that only detracts from the essential nature of magic, which is the natural becoming the unnatural– not the expensive becoming the unnaturally expensive. Despite the distractions of the chorus of circus-folk, the show is two acts of pure, theatrical, jaw-dropping, hair-raising, old-fashion, entertainment.
Performances range from impossible card-tricks, iPhones traveling in space, birds appearing, men being squished, speared, and set ablaze, all the way to a more gruesome swallowing of razor blades; With so many talented masters of deception, every facet of modern illusion is displayed and performed with energy, comedy, and wit. It cannot be left unsaid that The Trickster, Jeff Hobson, is an entertainer that others aspire to be. He engages an audience with every move he makes. He reminds us of the Fred Astaire or Charlie Chaplin kind of performance that is undeniably fun. His personality that shines through is so real, reminding us of that crazy uncle at Christmas gatherings, that when he performs magic acts of the top tier, he is shockingly believable. Unbelievably believable.
Dan Sperry, as the Anti-Conjuror, is one of the most interesting men I’ve ever seen on a stage. His being unamused by his own works that defy ever law of nature, is hilarious and oddly beautiful. “Yayyyy magic,” he says with an ironic distain after just pulling a quarter from inside his own arm. He performs with the the humor of a DMV worker and the visual themes of the Saw horror movie franchise. It’s a recipe that sound horrible, but much like a casserole, the sum of the parts are nothing compared to the beauty of the whole.
The show’s success is made by the unbelievable acts performed by people we believe. This is the magic of theatre; watching the normal man become the superhero, not watching the superhero become the superhero. The show is pieced together with a flow that is engaging and only distracted by giant dances. At its heart is a vibrant beautiful exploration in theatricality. If you’re at all interested in challenging your mind, then go witness these sterling performers make you believe the impossible. Yu Ho-Jin, The Manipulator, will make you see things that cannot be done. He is an unstoppable miracle-worker.
Magic happens on each Broadway stage every single night, but at the Neil Simon, it’s pitch, and execution is clear and essential to what we find entertaining. Enjoy this piece that is simply theatre.
"Think of Liberace in Las Vegas, minus piano, fur and rhinestones."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"an enjoyably hokey, Vegas-style variety evening of magic whose mostly pretend thrills should provide a welcome two-hour escape from reality."
Frank Scheck for The Hollywood Reporter
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