Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Theater Review: The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible

(Note: This is a review of the show tour in Hartford. The Illusionists begins a Broadway run Nov. 19. Tour schedule below)

Witnessing the Impossible, and It’s Impossible to Believe that People Want to Witness it
By Lauren Yarger
The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible sold out last year in a limited run on Broadway and returns again this year for another highly anticipated run during the holiday season. Connecticut residents don’t have to wait to see the work of seven of the world’s most acclaimed illusionists, however, as the show’s tour makes a stop at the Bushnell this week. The real question for me is, "Do I really want to?"


This show, conceived by Simon Painter (with creative direction by Jim Millan and direction and choreography by Neil Dorward), is not your grandmother’s version of a magic show. Oh, yes, there are some of the elements you would expect like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, card tricks, sawing a person in half, escaping from a straitjacket, etc. All of this is done with colorful flashing lights (design by Paul Miller) and video projections (designed by Darrel Maloney).

There also are some unexpected bits, like a very, very creepy guy forcing a coin into his eye and cutting it out of his arm, and another lying on a sharp nail and placing a scorpion in his mouth while handcuffed and placed in further peril. These acts seem more fitting for TV’s “The Fear Factor” than a magic show. There also is a crossbow demonstration that is interesting, but not what I would call an illusion.

When it comes to “Fear Factor” and shows of that genre, there is always something else on I would prefer to watch, even if it is something as horrible and frightening as “The Brady Bunch.” I never have been able to figure out why people would want to watch others do potentially harmful or stupid things. I have to admit it, but I never have been wowed by Houdini’s water torture trick, so seeing it performed without curtains hiding it here didn’t do anything for me either.

TV ratings and the popularity of The Illusionists on Broadway prove me clueless, however, when it comes to what people sometimes find entertaining, so take everything I say here with a grain of salt (and then go rub it in wound for added fun ….)

The show features seven male illusionists. There a couple of women among the assistants who dance it up to blaring music composed by  Evan Jolly during the illusions designed by Don Wayne and directed by Mark Kalin, The illusionists are (as described in press materials, so I don’t ruin the magic with my cynicism…):

The Manipulator, Yu Ho-Jin.  Considered a rising superstar in the world of magic, he was named 2014 “Magician of the Year,” by Academy of Magical Arts and was the first Asian to win the Grand Prix at the Fédération Internationale des Sociétés Magiques, also known as the “Olympics of Magic.”  
The Anti-Conjuror, Dan Sperry. Described as Marilyn Manson meets David Copperfield, Sperry combines the art of magic with the macabre and is one of the top-10 most Googled people, thanks to a legendary “America’s Got Talent” appearance.

The Trickster, Jeff Hobson is the epitome of glamour and showmanship. Don’t be fooled by his innocent appearance; Hobson has audiences laughing long after the curtain goes down.

The Escapologist, Andrew Basso. Italy’s star escape artist, Basso considers Houdini his hero and is fast becoming one of the world’s most popular illusionists. He is the only person in the world to perform Houdini’s famous Water Torture Cell with absolutely no covers.

The Inventor, Kevin James, known for innovative illusions, is an inventor, comedian and collector of the strange and unusual. He is one of the most prolific inventors of magic in the world and has created some of the most celebrated illusions of the last century.

The Weapon Master, Ben Blaque, has established himself as America’s foremost master of the crossbow after appearing four times on “America’s Got Talent.” He performs incredibly dangerous acts of dexterity using highly powerful crossbows to shoot various objects supported by his assistant.

The Daredevil, Jonathan Goodwin, the British-born Goodwin is considered to be one of the most creative, skilled and craziest stunt performers in the world who has been hanged, buried alive, hung by his toes from helicopters, burned at the stake and attacked by sharks.

All righty then, I’ll let you determine whether any of that appeals. I’ll just tell you what my favorite parts were:
  • The Trickster. Hands down, the best part of the show. Hobson is delightfully snarky, causing belly laughs among magical tricks. He’s a cross between Liberace and Don Rickles and I would have enjoyed the show a lot more if it had been two hours of just this guy insulting audience members and killing balloon animals he made for little kids in the audience.
  • The Manipulator. Yu does some amazing card tricks. Cards change in front of your eyes and appear from nowhere.
  • Audience participation. A number of people are selected and brought up on stage to verify that props are real and not tricks or to participate in actual illusions. Their interaction with the illusionists and reactions are quite entertaining (one woman’s reluctance to check out a severed torso was a hoot).
The show will play at Broadway’s Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd St., NYC from Nov. 19-Jan. 3. www.theillusionistslive.com/broadway.

U.S. TOUR
HARTFORD, CT SEPTEMBER 22 - 27, 2015
KNOXVILLE, TN SEPTEMBER 29 - OCTOBER 1, 2015
ROANOKE, VA FRIDAY - OCT 2
HERSHEY, PA OCTOBER 3 - 4, 2015
BLOOMINGTON, IN TUESDAY - OCT 6
KALAMAZOO, MI OCTOBER 7 - 8, 2015
FLINT, MI OCTOBER 9 - 10, 2015
FORT WAYNE, IN SUNDAY - OCT 11
DAVENPORT, IA MONDAY - OCT 12
SPRINGFIELD, IL TUESDAY - OCT 13
EVANSVILLE, IN WEDNESDAY - OCT 14
NORFOLK, VA OCTOBER 16 - 18, 2015
ROCKFORD, IL TUESDAY - OCT 20
PEORIA, IL OCTOBER 21 - 22, 2015
DES MOINES, IA OCTOBER 23 - 25, 2015
NORTH CHARLESTON, SC NOVEMBER 3 - 4, 2015
ATHENS, GA THURSDAY - NOV 5
CHATTANOOGA, TN FRIDAY - NOV 6
RICHMOND, KY SATURDAY - NOV 7
COLUMBIA, SC NOVEMBER 8 - 9, 2015
DURHAM, NC NOVEMBER 10 - 15, 2015
COSTA MESA, CA FEBRUARY 2 - 7, 2016
BOISE, ID FEBRUARY 9 - 11, 2016
KENNEWICK, WA FRIDAY - FEB 12
SPOKANE, WA FEBRUARY 13 - 14, 2016
LOS ANGELES, CA FEBRUARY 23 - MARCH 13, 2016
BALTIMORE, MD MARCH 29 - APRIL 3, 2016
COLUMBUS, GA TUESDAY - APR 5
PENSACOLA, FL WEDNESDAY - APR 6
TALLAHASSEE, FL THURSDAY - APR 7
FORT MYERS, FL APRIL 8 - 10, 2016
CHARLESTON, WV TUESDAY - APR 12
PORTLAND, ME APRIL 15 - 16, 2016
PITTSBURGH, PA APRIL 19 - 24, 2016
CEDAR FALLS, IA TUESDAY - APR 26
WEST LAFAYETTE, IN WEDNESDAY - APR 27
HUNTSVILLE, AL APRIL 29 - MAY 1, 2016
TAMPA, FL SEPTEMBER 23 - 25, 2016

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

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I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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