The Illusionists – Live From Broadway; National Tour, ASU Gammage, Tempe

It began with a performance at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia in 2012. Since that spectacular opening, The Illusionists, a touring magic production consisting of seven spectacularly outstanding stage magicians, has thrilled millions around the world, which is surprising considering that up until that huge poster of oncoming productions appeared hanging near the ASU Gammage box-office area alongside other oncoming national tours, most ticket-holders had never heard of them.

The cast regularly changes, depending on the tour, and so does the name; or, at least, the subtitle. After that Australian opening, the show was called The Illusionists – Witness the Impossible, then later 1903: The Golden Age of Magic; Turn of the Century; 2.0, and now with the current Asia and North American tour; Live From Broadway.

Perhaps the best way to describe The Illusionists is to think of a Vegas style production with some Broadway sensibilities. The electronic music pulsates, the light show dazzles, the dancer/assistants attract – they’re like the leather-clad rock chicks of eighties heavy metal videos – and the tricks truly stun. If there’s anything you’ll be asking yourself at the conclusion of each individual act it’ll be, “How’d they do that?” It’s something you’ll be asking from the outset to the conclusion.

The cast are made up of seven highly skilled performers, each of whom have a comic-book moniker, something akin to a superhero, though with names like The Manipulator of The Trickster, they’re more like super-villains, particularly The Anti-Conjuror (Dan Sperry) whose gruesome facial appearance, plus the shock tactics of his act, would make him an ideal candidate for the Suicide Squad, particularly when part of his act includes inserting a coin into his eye – tested for authenticity by an understandably apprehensive member of the audience – only to have it later emerge from a self-inflicted gash in his arm.

In an auditorium as large as ASU Gammage, where the show is now playing until Sunday, January 22, there might be a justified concern that the subtleties of card tricks and slight-of-hand illusions would be lost to those in the back rows, or up in the balconies, but the show has you covered. A large screen hangs center upon which everything you see live below can be seen in close-up above on the screen. It helps a lot, particularly in one charming segment involving The Inventor (Kevin James), a little girl from the audience, and a floating paper rose. There’s also the fun of audience members seeing themselves when cameras turn, or when an unsuspecting patron is yanked from his or her seat to help out with an act, whether they want to help or not. Most of those involuntary volunteers tend to be near the front, but if you think you’re safe just because you’re somewhere seated in the middle of the house, think again.

Because of that televised screen, there are times when you might feel as though you’re watching the recording of a real television show. The camera often goes in for a sudden close-up, spotlights spin and hit the target, and the music creates a moment of sudden drama, echoing the sounds of a new-style game show like The Weakest Link or Who Wants To be A Millionaire.

In a show like The Illusionists, it would be unfair to talk of individual moments with any real detail; the overall fun of the piece is witnessing the illusions for yourself (it would be like giving away plot-spoilers in a show that has no plot), but each and everyone of the performances are truly remarkable. In addition to the already-mentioned The Inventor and The Anti-Conjuror, there’s also The Escapologist (Andrew Basso) who has a minute to escape a watery death, The Daredevil (Jonathan Goodwin) who lies on a bed of nails (consisting of one nail!), The Deductionist (Colin Cloud) who’ll be reading your mind, and The Manipulator (An Ha Lim) who remains silent throughout but dazzles with his continually fluid slight-of-hand card tricks.

Perhaps by the end of the first half there’ll be tendency to think, okay, I’ve seen enough, but stay; the second half is hardly more of the same. The illusions continue to dazzle, The Inventor charms once again with an eye-catching act consisting of snowflakes, while the whole show is held together by the continual appearance of The Trickster, a hugely entertaining Jeff Hobson who MC’s, interacts with the audience, and performs tricks of his own. With his ad-libs, his camp asides, and his neatly-coiffed hair, plus a reputation for being known as ‘the host of Las Vegas,’ he’s the magician’s answer to Liberace, and he’s very, very funny.

Pictures courtesy of Joan Marcus

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