Thursday, March 12, 2015

Abracadabra: For the Rare Magic Show, 'The Illusionists' Do the Trick -- Chicago Theater / Magic Review

Theater / Magic Review

The Illusionists - Witness the Impossible
featuring Andrew Basso, Aaron Crow, Jeff Hobson, Yu Ho-Jin, Kevin James, Dan Sperry, Adam Trent
Cadillac Palace, Chicago
Thru March 22

Of all the performing arts, I don't think there are any I've attended less than magic. (Except perhaps mime if Blue Man Group doesn't count.)

I remember seeing Doug Henning at the old Mill Run Theater as a kid in the '70s, and I once saw Penn & Teller in Las Vegas.

That's it.

No other Vegas headliner magicians. No David Copperfield. Never a trip to the Magic Castle in Los Angeles.

And the thing is, I don't dislike magic; in fact, I enjoy it.

Any halfway decent magician can adequately fool me, even dazzle me. 

But I rarely even see any magic on TV, and it's not like I get invited to kids' birthday parties, where local magicians might occasionally appear.

So although I wouldn't want magic shows--or much else beyond the mainstay musicals--to proliferate as part of my Broadway in Chicago subscription, I have no urge to dis The Illusionists appearing on BIC's spring slate. 

It was nice to see the Cadillac Palace filled for the first night of the Chicago run, and while the second-to-last row in the upper balcony of a huge downtown theater probably isn't the optimal perch for appreciate the nimble artistry of top-notch magicians--even with a video screen onstage--the 2-1/2 hour Witness the Impossible production was sufficiently worth my while. 

I wasn't familiar, even merely by name, with any of the 7 magicians that are part of this touring show--following a brief Broadway run--but one has to presume all are very well-regarded to be selected for such a showcase, with bookings well into next year. 

Each magician had a distinct persona--The Escapologist (Adam Basso), The Warrior (Aaron Crow), The Trickster (Jeff Hobson), The Manipulator (Yu Ho-Jin), The Inventor (Kevin James), The Anti-Conjuror (Dan Sperry), The Futurist (Adam Trent)--and frequent audience participation bits with good-natured folks added to the fun.

The magic, to my easily-deceived eyes, was first-rate, including a Houdiniesque water torture escape by Basso, a strange trick involving a Life-Saver and dental floss by Sperry, a William Tell-inspired apple + arrow illusion by Crow, and a particularly head-scratching man split in two bit by James. 

Though there were few audible gasps from the audience, even the multiple card tricks were impressive. The best of these were by Yu Ho-Jin, who was named Magician of the Year in 2014 and won the preeminent magic competition at age 19. 

He brought a unique elegance and gracefulness to his two tricks, and I would've liked to see him do more. Of all the magicians, he's the one I would be most interested to see do his own show. 

Both Trent and Hobson were engaging in quasi-Emcee roles, while also doing tricks of their own. A 20-minute trick by Sperry after the intermission was way too long and not correspondingly awe-inspiring enough, but all seven magicians were clearly well-heeled as entertainers, not merely tricksters. 

That said, this magic show was much better for the magic than the show. Despite a stellar live band onstage--called Z--it seemed any consistent excitement was a rather muted and pacing a bit less than ideal. 

If you're one who loves magic--or have kids who do, as several children were in the house and a few cutely
chosen to participate in tricks--The Illusionists - Witness the Impossible provides a rather rare chance to see Vegas-type magical talents in a large Loop venue. (Check HotTix and Goldstar for discounts before springing for full price ducats.)

But whereas a rare recent trip to the ballet, and somewhat infrequent symphony and opera performances, acutely interested me in increasing my exposure to those art forms, as much as I was adequately entertained--and frequently impressed--by The Illusionists, I really can't say it left me longing to anytime soon see what other magicians may have up their sleeve. 

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