Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Review: THE ILLUSIONISTS: Taking Your Breath Away One Illusion at a Time

Dazzling originality and elegant artistry blend seamlessly in the spectacular show, The Illusionists – Live From Broadway, now playing at the Hollywood Pantages. Much more than a magic show, the artists who make up this “Magnificent Seven” exhibit a stunning array of feats that will constantly leave you saying, “How’d they do that?!”

Although the first illusion had to be abandoned on opening night when the drape covering a large see-through box suspended in the air failed to drop into place, it didn’t dampen the excitement. Instead, Jeff Hobson (the Trickster), the next magician in line used the foible to enhance his opening comedy routine and impress the audience with his ability to improvise his way to some serious laughs. The Las Vegas showman is the cheesy glue that connects the larger acts – all glitz and Liberace glamour with a healthy dose of fun-loving camp.

This show contains a great deal of audience participation so watch your belongings when Hobson or one of the other magicians gets close. Even if you aren’t the one ending up on stage, your personals might if you aren’t careful, and the laugh will be on you.

Each entertainer brings his own style to the party and among them you’re sure to have favorites. Regardless of which speaks to you specifically, there is no doubt that they are all ridiculously talented.

Dan Sperry. Show photos by Vanessa Viana

One of the most striking characters is Anti-Conjurer and shock illusionist, Dan Sperry whom you may have seen on America’s Got Talent. Looking like he just stepped out of an episode of American Horror Story, his brand of illusion is accompanied by head-banging rock & roll and will make you cringe with its darkly seductive allure. Why might you cringe? Early on he chews a lifesaver to pulp and then somehow forces a length of dental floss into his skin to pull the lifesaver out of his neck whole again in a process that can only be declared as gross. Later he pushes a coin into his eye and then cuts a gash in his arm where the coin eventually emerges a bloody mess. It’s awful and wonderful at the same time.

Another illusionist you may recognize from America’s Got Talent is sharpshooter Ben Blaque, known as the Weapon Master. With astounding precision he does what looks to be impossible, culminating in a slick series of crossbow shots around the room while blindfolded that has him split an apple on his own head. You figure out how he does it. 

And later, the amazing Deceptionist James More (first seen on Britain’s Got Talent) is shackled and run through by a panel of flaming spikes before mysteriously disappearing and reappearing at the back of the Pantages Theatre behind the audience. Stunning.

Andrew Basso

Escapist Andrew Basso is listed as “Italy’s star escape artist” and easily lives up to his nickname in a twist on Houdini’s famous water torture cell illusion. A lengthy setup adds suspense while Basso very seriously relates what he is about to do with an eerie sense of calm. A successful escape requires that he hold his breath upwards of 4 minutes, making a thrilling end to Act I.

The large illusions may impress by their sheer scale but equally as incredible are the intimate moments such as crumpled bits of paper dancing in the Inventor’s (Kevin James) hand and cards smoothly transforming in front of our eyes by the Manipulator (Yu Ho-Jin). 

James has a friendly Professor Marvel appeal and has created illusions that have been used by the likes of Penn & Teller and David Copperfield. Here his inventions involve bringing a small man to life out of wooden body parts, creating a snowstorm out of a glass of water, and putting a man back together when you’d swear there was only half of him left. Ho-Jin’s close-up work is like watching art in motion. He gracefully manipulates the cards in long, easy, flowing sequences accompanied by beautiful music. The effect is breathtaking.

Adam Trent

Then, in a completely different kind of magic, Adam Trent (the Futurist) combines sleight of hand with projections and animation to create a uniquely original kind of performance – think the ingenuity of Gene Kelly tap dancing on roller skates or dancing with Jerry Mouse in Anchors Aweigh. It is the kind of revolutionary artistry that propels the audience into the, well, the future.

It isn’t a surprise that The Illusionists has already done two stints on Broadway, one in London, and also has a world tour traveling at the same time as its U.S. tour. Producers Simon Painter and Tim Lawson have found seven showmen with seven radically different personalities and talents that will give you the ride of your life. You want to be astounded? Get to the Hollywood Pantages before the magic disappears. 

February 23 – March 13, 2016
Hollywood Pantages
6233 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Tickets: 1-800-982-2787 or 

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