At its heart, magic is at about entertainment. Despite The Illusionists’ cheesy and over the top atmosphere, it at least manages to entertain. The show brings together seven individuals with seven very different talents and performance styles. From The Trickster to The Deceptionist, the seven illusionists have been adorned with names that make them sound akin to comic book characters, while aptly describing their performance style and attitude. The combination of these seven characters in one show is The Illusionists’ biggest strength, as well as its biggest weakness.
As a magician, I was initially very disappointed with the show. I like my magic simple and to the point. The Illusionists aims to do the complete opposite. The show opens with lasers and lights flashing, a thunderous music soundtrack, and a chorus of dancers. Amidst this hubbub, the seven illusionists are introduced and appear in a cage suspended above the stage floor. I was initially put off by the exaggerated effects, and was concerned that The Illusionists was going to be more show than substance. I was not wrong. The lights and effects that surrounded the performances served not to enhance the experience, but instead detracted from the feats being performed on stage. A lot of the magic required a close-up view, so a large TV screen projected these these effects and allowed the audience to actually see what was happening on stage. Being forced to watch a TV screen took away from the feeling of a “live” magic show.
Following the introductions, Jeff Hobson, The Trickster, takes it away as the MC for the evening. Jeff Hobson is the driving force behind The Illusionists and takes the stage in between the different acts to perform his own camp and cheeky style of magic and audience interaction. Whether he is eating fire or just simply flirting with the audience members he brings on stage, Hobson is a one-man entertainment machine that pushes the envelope with his “the kids don’t get it” sense of humor. Very often, I found myself looking forward to these breaks between the other acts to see what Hobson would come up with. However, Hobson’s character very much felt like it belonged on a cruise ship or at a late night Vegas cabaret show, instead of a Broadway production.
The rest of the first act fell flat for me, with Dan Sperry, the Anti-Conjuror, and Ben Blaque, the Weapons Master, performing their acts that made them famous on America’s Got Talent. The highlight of the first act was when Kevin James, the Inventor, brought a boy on stage to help out with one of his effects. The awe and amazement in the boy’s eyes reminded me of when I watched magic as a kid. At the end of the trick, James gave the boy an “Illusionists Starter Magic Kit”, which was definitely good advertising and would have left 11-year-old Drew begging his parents for one. My intermission notes pointed to one description: cheesy variety show.
The second act impressed more with bigger and better illusions, but still did not deviate from the America’s Got Talent TV show atmosphere that The Illusionists had succeeded in creating. The second act saw the introduction of Andrew Basso, the Escapologist, and James More, the Deceptionist. The show was lacking Yu Ho-Jin, the Manipulator, whose skilled card tricks I had seen in videos and was looking forward to seeing live. Basso presented a small playful bit of escapology to demonstrate his prowess, followed by an escape where he was suspended in mid-air. More then astonished the audience with his take on the traditional Metamorphosis routine, and shocked the crowd by performing a disappearing act on stage and immediately reappearing among the audience. Sperry and James also returned to the stage, with Sperry performing an impressive piece of dove magic that awed and entertained. Hobson again was the glue that kept the show going throughout the second act, as the audience continued to be delighted and amazed by his jokes and sleight of hand. James’s closing piece was typical of a finale performance, but did not fit the style and atmosphere that The Illusionists had created, which ended the show on a disjointed and disappointing note.
The Illusionists’ biggest problem is that it tries to achieve too much. Individually, all of the illusionists are incredibly talented performers and are undoubtedly the top of their respective fields. But together, their different acts do not add to each other at all, and the overall show often seemed disjointed and forced. The light effects and dancers also resulted in a corny game show atmosphere, which did not contribute to the show as a whole. This atmosphere could be expected, as four of the performers did become famous on either America’s or Britain’s Got Talent, and another made his career on Vegas stages. However, I was hoping for more of an underlying story or message that would tie the different pieces of magic together.
Still, the fact that The Illusionists combined these very different acts into one show is admirable. Even if it does seem like a variety show or a cabaret, it is one of very high quality. It is not everyday that someone sees a high caliber and entertaining magic trick, and The Illusionists is able to show the audience effects and feats of magic from a variety of magical genres. This is its biggest strength. The Illusionists will never compare to the shows of Copperfield or Penn and Teller, both of whom are incredibly established magicians in their own fields, but The Illusionists is an entertaining and eye-opening exploration into the varied and impressive aspects of stage magic.