Terrific escapist entertainment
|Broadway in Chicago presents|
|The Illusionists: Live from Broadway|
Review by Catey Sullivan
The Illusionists: Live from Broadway opens with Vegas-worthy flash, dazzle and cheesy pomposity. As a jumbotron offers images of the performers and their illusions, a booming stentorian voice breathlessly announces that we are about to witness the “next generation” of magicians. Heads up lady prestidigitators: The next generation of magicians is comprised wholly of dudes: Six white ones, and one from South Korea who remains mute through the entire show.
The women of the Next Generation are scantily clad assistants in 50 Shades of Gray-costume-party-meets-Steampunk arrangements of lace, latex, and elaborate belted devices. If you want to pursue a career in magic and you’ve got lady parts? Best get that bod into centerfold shape so you help the guys with their knife throwing acts.
Here’s another thing about the “next generation of magic,” as practiced per the Illusionists: From the water torture escape to the mind-reading, it apparently doesn’t include anything Chicago’s Dennis Watkins hasn’t done already.
That said, The Illusionists is terrific escapist entertainment. Each of the magicians showcased have their own gimmick, look and shtick. Over the course of two hours or so, they provide a range of illusions from extreme target shooting to card tricks to Houdini-styled escapes.
The “Trickster” (Jeff Hobson) is the best of the lot – which is good, since he serves as the evening’s Emcee, providing patter between acts and keeping the show moving with a charming blend of comedy and sleight-of-hand. Hobson is a gloriously flamboyant performer (“I can’t even think straight”) who evokes the showmanship of Liberace, right down to the killer collection of smoking jackets.
With Hobson acting as genial host, we meet the others. There is the Daredevil (Jonathan Goodwin), whose title should really be bestowed on his assistants. Trussed up like turkeys bound for a bondage dungeon, the women in Goodwin’s act hold up tiny targets while he fires a lethal-looking crossbow at them, sometimes blindfolded.
The Escapologist (Andrew Basso, channeling a latter day Fabio) does the Houdini water tank escape, but not before making a prominent show of mouthing prayers and looking heavenward, his hand over his heaving bosom. Credit to Basso for performing the escape without raising a black curtain around the padlocked tank. As the seconds tick by (on the jumbotron), you can actually see how Basso manages his escape, lock by breathless lock.
The Deductionist (Colin Cloud) has a mind-reading bit that’s fascinating, and a fitting reverence for Sherlock Holmes. His second act bit involving random numbers that suddenly become jaw-droppingingly meaningful is a stunner. The Inventor (Kevin James) does a routine involving a chainsaw, a tri-furcated dummy and a Little Person that is also astonishing.
Then there’s the Anti-Conjuror (Dan Sperry), an “America’s Got Talent” vet who specializes in “shock illusions” and insult comedy. His ultra-goth costume, tats, and sloppy/scary clown makeup make him look like a copy of a copy of a copy of the great Alice Cooper or a lost Juggalo. His patter calls to mind Don Rickles, were Don Rickles having an off-night. He brands himself as a purveyor of “shock illusions,” which apparently means “illusions accompanied by the appearance of a whole lot of bodily fluids.” His act isn’t really shocking so much as it is messy. It’s cool if you’re into body modification and cleverly applied special effects. As magic, it’s not quite as impressive.
The star of the show is the Manipulator (South Korea’s An Ha Lim). You could call what he does card tricks, but that would be akin to calling the Mona Lisa a painting. Of all the men on stage, Lim is the one who astonishes as he seems to do the impossible. His entire act involves the manipulation of cards – there’s no fake blood, no weaponry, no massive stage props. It’s just Lim and his cards, and it is utterly breathtaking. If anybody on stage personifies the next generation of magic, it’s An Ha Lim.
The Illusionists continues through February 26th at Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph (map). Tickets are $30-$90, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or through Ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at BroadwayinChicago.com or TheIllusionistsLive.com. (Running time: 2 hours , includes an intermission)
Photos by Joan Marcus
Dan Sperry (The Anti-Conjurer), An Ha Lim (The Manipulator), Andrew Basso (The Escapologist), Colin Cloud (The Deductionist), Jeff Hobson (The Trickster), Jonathan Goodwin (The Daredevil), Kevin James (The Inventor).