What better way to ring in the New Year than with a little magic? The Illusionists unites five unique magicians in a spectacle that, while cheesy at times, still has the power to truly dazzle audience members of all ages.
The Illusionists serves up a kind of magical buffet for the assembled crowd. Imagine a 2.5 hour remix of David Blaine’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it card trickery, Criss Angel’s baffling video segments, and Harry Houdini’s classic escapist illusions, set to a pounding musical score. The five illusionists mostly function as a well-oiled machine, quickly swapping between acts and magical motifs with only a few awkward transitions.
Affable emcee and “Futurist” Adam Trent kicks off the production with some engaging banter and crowd interaction. Trent relies on a technology-infused magic shtick that turns on the use of a borrowed smartphone (funny) and a truth-telling robot (cheesy). Even though he initially seems to phone it in, Trent’s breezy, Chevy Chase-style deadpan grows on you throughout the show. As the evening progresses, Adam rolls out more ambitious tricks, relying heavily on projections, video screens, and even musical loop pedals. At the close of the show, Trent emerges as the most well-rounded magician in terms of banter, presentation and trick execution.
Second only to Trent in pure quality is Kevin James, “The Inventor”. Adopting a sort of “mad scientist” persona, James pulls off multiple set piece tricks that put a vaudevillian twist on classic tropes like the ventriloquist’s dummy and the sawed-in-half assistant. But James’ real talent lies with his soft-spoken magnetism and undeniable connection with children in the audience. The young volunteers’ adorable moments of bafflement at disappearing giant coins and paper roses melted even this critic’s cynical adult heart.
Virginia Beach native Krendl “The Excapist” adds an admirable Houdini escape repertoire to the mix. From the water torture to the sword guillotine, Krendl doesn’t disappoint with seemingly death-defying feats. The tricks do suffer from slightly flimsy production values, but such large stunts always seem to suffer when they’re scaled down from Vegas or Broadway stages to fit a touring show. Still, his impressive physical displays of “excapism” are nothing to sneeze at.
“Manipulator” Florian Sainvet adds a trippy, mime-like aspect to balance the mouthy routines of his fellow magicians. Like Trent’s deadpan stylings, Sainvet’s more silent, Euro-pop style takes some getting used to. His initial routine, relying on robotic movements as he conjures colorful discs out of thin air, falls a bit flat. Later in the show, his persona finally clicks into place as he alternates impressive sleight of hand with understated, mischievous glances.
“Weapon Master” Ben Blaque rounds out the quintet in a smaller, but no less important role of “man flinging sharp projectiles at his poor assistant”. Blaque’s magical medium is the crossbow, which he wields like a surgeon in stunts of increasing complexity. His final, blindfolded trick is a feat of extreme, dangerous skill that stands out in an evening tilted more toward misdirection than mortal danger.
closes January 7, 2017
Details and tickets
The show’s cohesive blend of five distinct performing styles is a credit to creative director Jim Millan, director/producer Neil Dorward, and their phalanx of lighting, projection, costume, and video designers. I was initially skeptical that such disparate acts could really coexist, but the creative team has nailed down a breezy, winning formula akin to “America’s Got Talent”, or Barnum and Bailey. Even when the illusions are less than stellar, the production whisks the audience right along to the next bit without skipping a beat. The Illusionists is best for a family craving all-ages wonderment, but even the most jaded adults will find much to enjoy. After a long, tumultuous year, it’s OK to put away your phone, give in to suspension of disbelief, and simply wonder, “How’d they do that?”
The Illusionists, Live From Broadway . Direction/Creative Production: Neil Dorward. Executive Production: Tim Lawson. Featuring Ben Blaque, Kevin James, Krendl, Florian Sainvet, Adam Trent, Antonio Hoyos, Claudia James, Meredith Madden, Stephanie Potteiger, and De’Niko Maurice Welch. Creative Direction: Jim Millan. Creative Production: Simon Painter. Lighting Design: Paul Smith. Costume Design: Angela Aaron. Video Design: NICE Studios. Illusion Design: Don Wayne. Illusion Direction: Mark Kalin. Associate Direction: Kirsty Painter. Associate Direction/Choreography: Jenn Rapp. Music Composition: Evan Jolly. Additional Composition: Eddie Cole & Dustin Moore. Presented at The Kennedy Center . Reviewed by Ben Demers.