Magician Adam Trent says audiences divide into people who seek explanations and people who just want to enjoy effects. He prefers the latter. “The secrets are always disappointing,” he says. “When you show someone it’s a magnet or a little piece of wire, it’s always a big letdown.”
So suspend skepticism, abandon analysis and enjoy your bafflement at “The Illusionists,” the touring Broadway show that teams seven sorcerers for more than two hours of legerdemain. It’s a magic show where both words in that phrase carry equal weight: The effects seem magical, and the show has a structure that never wears us out or leaves us fidgeting.
Two men perform one big trick: Stone-faced Aaron Crow pulls off a “William Tell” stunt with an apple and a wedding ring, and “escapologist” Andrew Basso recreates Harry Houdini’s water-box stunt in full view. (Houdini dropped a curtain over the container.)
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Jeff Hobson, often a fey master of ceremonies, gets laughs even when performing tricks – or, in one case, guiding an audience member from a few feet away. Dan Sperry, bedecked in tattoos and Joker makeup to go with dreadlocks, does a bizarrely funny routine with a broken bottle, then returns to perform swift sleight-of-hand with birds.
Trent uses technology cleverly, sometimes to interact with multiple versions of himself and sometimes simply to make us smile by doing card tricks. A videographer constantly circles the magicians to make sure everyone at Knight Theater can see every routine, casting images on a screen above the stage; when Trent rolls up his sleeves to do close-up magic, we’re impressed by his no-place-to-hide ability.
Some magicians do illusions big and small: Kevin James does a grand segment with “snow,” but he’s as interesting when he makes a paper rose turn into a real one for a little girl. (No audience members onstage seemed to be phony.) The onstage band, dubbed simply Z, can supply bursts of heavy metal or caress the ear with Debussy’s “Clair de Lune” on solo piano.
Director Neil Dorward wisely ends with Yu Ho-Jin, the Academy of Magical Arts’ 2014 Magician of the Year. He never speaks and barely moves, but his serpentine fingers make cards dance. They rain from his ambidextrous hands, gain and lose markings and obey him at top speed. Sometimes the smallest gestures create the largest effects.