The Mentalist. The Trickster. The Daredevil. The Elusive. The Manipulator. The Showman. The Transformationalists.
No, these are not new recruits to the Marvel and D.C. comic-book universes. But the hyperbolic publicist who promotes their blockbuster films may well be doing freelance for these master illusionists, who are on tour for a limited now-you-see-them-now-you-don’t engagement at Playhouse Square.
According to the press release, “The Illusionists: Live From Broadway” is a “mind-blowing spectacular” that is “packed with thrilling and sophisticated magic of unprecedented proportions” that “dazzles audiences of all ages.”
It is most certainly packed, for this fast-paced, two-hour Vegas-style revue showcases mentalism (Stuart MacLeod), sleight-of-hand (Valentin Azema), quick-change artistry (the team of Sos Petrosyan and Nadejda Mititelu), great escape (Jonathan Goodwin), close-up magic (Steve Valentine), theatrical thievery (Darren “Dizzy” Partridge), and grand illusion (Florian Sainvet). Much of it is delivered with a delightful sense of humor and plenty of audience interaction and participation, with the extraordinarily affable Valentine doing most of the heavy lifting in this regard.
And as advertised, this production is, indeed, mind-blowing. These performers have so perfected their respective specialties that neither front-row seating nor the magnified, live-feed video projection of their work on a large center-stage screen reveals the mechanics behind their magic.
And this production does dazzle. While most of these illusions have been performed since Houdini’s time, they are richly embellished with high-tech glimmer courtesy of Hugo Bosseny’s LED-heavy lighting, Phillippe Dumas CGI design, a lively omni-present soundtrack composed by Evan Duffy, and plenty of Jen Rapp’s showgirl choreography as performed by the scantily clad April Anneberg and Manon Chaney. All of this is directed by Neil Dorward, whose signature has been on every touring production since the beginning of the franchise.
It should be noted that the bold subtitle that broadcasts this production is a bit of clever misdirection, for none of these performers or their specific skills were connected to the successful 2014 Broadway production that launched this and other national and international “The Illusionists” tours.
And there is a bit of branding sleight-of-hand as well, for this same show with these same performers was marketed as “The Illusionists: Magic for the Holidays” just a month ago. But what else should one expect from a show employing performers named The Trickster and The Manipulator.
True aficionados of this ilk of entertainment will likely find that the performers in “The Illusionists: Live From Broadway” are not as grand as David Copperfield, not as mind-bending as David Blaine, and not as cerebral as Penn and Teller. But these eight entertainers have put together a very engaging evening. And perhaps their best bit of prestidigitation is the sheer joy they exude while performing on what must surely be an exhausting tour consisting largely of one-and-done engagements in a different city each night.
Getting audiences to sense spontaneity without smoke and mirrors is the greatest magic trick of all.