I have to admit I am something of a magic geek. I love seeing the impossible and having magicians do things that my mind just can’t fathom. It’s one of the reasons I was so excited about seeing The Illusionists at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House; after all, the stage was going to be shared by seven world-renowned magicians.
The night was filled with two hours of one mind-blowing illusion after another and the beauty of having a diverse crew of magicians is that no matter what type of magic you fancy—the vaudeville-esque card tricks, the 21st Century showmanship, or even the Houdini-like escapism magic—there was something for everyone.
The show opens with Adam Trent, who calls himself The Futurist, doing some simple slight of hand close-up magic and setting the stage for a night of crowd interaction. It’s not long before you realize this guy is someone not to take lightly in the magic world because he accomplishes an illusion that seems to defy all laws of science. Later in the show, Trent utilizes a large video screen on stage (sort of like the Blue Man Group) and transports his magic in and out of the technology. It’s cool and definitely different.
YuHo-Jin, AKA the Manipulator, proved why he was last year’s Magician of the Year with two illusions that I’m still trying to make sense of several hours later. He’s a bit too serious for my liking, but many young magicians like building tension and suspense with harrowing music and he seems to be following suit.
Not that the show didn’t offer plenty of laughs. Picture Paul Lynde doing magic. That’s Jeff “The Trickster” Hobson in a nutshell. Campy, a bit snarky and having some fun with his homosexuality, Hobson was a riot playing to (and with) the audience and making sly innuendos to several in the crowd.
Dan Sperry, the mohawked Anti-Conjurer, combines humor and the macabre in a hair-raising performance. He plays a unique version of Russian Roulette with an audience member and also does some great slight of hand with birds. Sperry gets the most stage time of the bunch and makes the most of it in shocking fashion. The one negative with Sperry is he speaks a little too fast at times and it’s hard to understand what he’s saying. It’s part of his personality but it took me out of one of his tricks completely when I should have been focused on what was happening. And be warned, those faint of heart should probably look away during intermission when a monitor shows the magician backstage having some fun with a needle.
Andrew Basso stole the show with a water torture escape attempt at the end of Act 1, which took a page out of Harry Houdini’s playbook, and was so tense and captivating, that you could have heard a pin drop as the audience looked on. It was one of the most incredible feats I have ever seen live.
Closes January 11, 2015
The Kennedy Center Opera House
2700 F Street, NW
2 hours, 15 minutes, 1 intermission
Tickets: $39 – $145
Although given the least amount of time in the spotlight, Aaron Crow, known as The Warrior, wasted none of it, doing an illusion with a couple in the crowd that combined romance, suspense and a crossbow—and never said a word in the process. It’s another of those tricks that ends with you just shaking your head because you have no idea how what he did could be possible.
One of the cutest moments of the production was magician Kevin “The Inventor” James interacting with a young audience member and creating a sense of awe armed simply with a piece of paper. James also closes the show with a trick that will delight people of all ages, and one that is very apropos for this time of year.
I’ll admit that one thing that did bother me a bit was the big screen hung directly above the magicians showing close-ups of all the tricks. Sure, it made some of the magic that much more amazing because you were literally peeking into their hands as they accomplished the impossible, but it took away some of the awe of viewing this magic live. I like to watch the magicians and their showmanship on the stage, and not just a series of close-up magic. It didn’t need to be used as often as it was.
And while the show is mostly kid friendly, some of the jokes were borderline inappropriate, although they mostly went over the heads of any small children (the Trickster, especially, should remember his crowd.)
They say too many chefs in the kitchen can spoil a dinner but having too many illusionists on stage together is an absolute delight. Each of the seven magicians shined and created a sense of wonder that will last with some audience members the rest of their lives.
The Illusionists . Directed by Neil Dorward. Featuring Yu Ho-Jin (The Manipulator), Dan Sperry (The Anti-Conjuror), Jeff Hobson (The Trickster), Andrew Basso (The Escapologist), Kevin James (The Inventor), Aaron Crow (The Warrior), Adam Trent (The Futurist). Lighting design: Paul Miller . Costume design: Angela Aaron . Video design: Darrel Maloney . Presented by The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Keith Loria.