The Illusionists are in town and after seeing the show Wednesday night I know several things for certain: there will be no egg shortage, chainsaw accidents will be on the rise, and it will snow this week. The Illusionists played the Marquis Theater on Broadway in 2014 and is now out on a touring run.
This show truly has something for everyone—magically speaking. It features seven main performers: Yu Ho-Jin (The Manipulator), Dan Sperry (The Anti-Conjuror), Jeff Hobson (The Trickster), Andrew Basso (The Escapologist), Kevin James (The Inventor). Ben Blaque (The Weapon Master), and James More (The Deceptionist). And of course there are interesting costumes and good-looking male and female assistants who also sometimes dance. The Illusionists is produced by a first-rate team of theatrical and magic show producers who have updated the traditional magic show with all of the power of today’s spectaculars.
The show is done similarly to a play with two acts and a short intermission in between each act. Each scene featured one of the illusionists performing several tricks. Most of the illusionists were featured in two scenes. Several smaller illusions were done in the audience and yes some audience members were plucked from their seats to assist the illusionists. There was a videographer who filmed most of the illusions which were then shown on a video screen above the stage. Lively and oft-times dramatic music and lighting were integral components of the production.
Hobson (The Trickster) acted as an announcer/ringmaster in introducing and setting up most of the illusions. He mostly played a flamboyant, Liberace-style foil against the dramatic nature of the illusionists’ tricks. His clothing was vibrant and funny, his matching sequined jacket and shoes were a sight to behold. He performed some tricks as jokes, like his swallowing of flame-tipped spits. There were others, like his egg trick, that were the real deal. Hobson excelled at his humorous interactions with audience volunteers. He even found an opportunity to steal the watch of an audience volunteer and eventually returned it.
One of the first acts saw a goth/Marlilyn Manson looking fellow—Sperry (The Anti-Conjuror)—sitting on the stage floor sucking on a Lifesaver he had just taken out of the bag. He swallowed it and it got caught in his throat. He had some dental floss and instead of putting it in his mouth to floss his teeth he flossed his throat from the outside with the floss appearing to go into his skin to a point near the middle of his neck, he then pulled it out and there was the Lifesaver on the piece of floss. Later in the show, with the help of an audience member who had written on both sides of a quarter, he appeared to cut his forearm with a knife and then pulled her quarter out of the bloody cut. Sperry showed great manual dexterity with his bird tricks that culminated in two live birds flying around Heinz Hall.
The Manipulator— Ho-Jin—also displayed amazing dexterity with his card tricks and visual card illusions. They were somewhat difficult to follow in an auditorium even with the video screen. Although it was plain to see him turn his deck of cards into a white scarf at the end of the demonstration. Ho- Jin provided a highlight of the evening with his show ending card trick featuring a Pittsburgh tie-in.
It was very interesting to see Italy’s top escape artist Basso perform Houdini’s water torture cell escape. He asked if there was a police officer in the audience who would come and place police issue handcuffs on his hands. His hands were cuffed in front of his body by the police officer. He was then hoisted upside down with his feet locked into the top of the column like an old stockade punishment form. He dramatically hovered upside down over the water cell armed only with a large paperclip to attempt this escape. He was then lowered into the water cell as the crowd went quiet. It was an intense escape.
One of the hardest to figure out illusions had James (The Inventor) accidentally saw one of his lab assistants in half with a chain saw. The man’s head and upper body seemed lifeless until touched by a woman called up from the crowd. After stapling the guy’s legs back to his upper body the man got up and walked off the stage. Pretty amazing! The Inventor’s other tricks had a softer side. He made a paper flower for a young girl he picked from the audience and gave it to her. He asked for it back, lit it on fire and it turned into a real rose. Another of his illusions had snow, or what looked like snow, come out of his hands and fly around the front of the stage for a full minute.
More (The Deceptionist) had some interesting illusions, one of which saw his body compressed from six feet to about three. He also had a fiery escape that had a surprise twist at the end. Blaque (The Weapon Master) displayed incredible proficiency with his crossbows in hitting different targets. Let’s just say he has a very, very brave assistant.
The show was fast-paced and lasted a little over two hours. It was an enjoyable night of illusions, drama, and comedy. Magic isn’t just about the physical trick, it’s about the set up and how we are deceived. We live in an age where answers to questions can be found on the web and magic revealed, but it’s also cool to just sit back, watch the illusionists and see if you can figure out the illusion yourself or if it just might be magic. The Illusionists has performances through Sunday at Heinz Hall and is part of the PNC Broadway In Pittsburgh series.
photos: Courtesy The Illusionists and Joan Marcus.
Rick Handler is the executive producer of Entertainment Central and loves a great illusion.