(By Andrew J. Friedenthal, American-Statesman freelance arts critic)
At its highest pinnacle, theater can reveal to us secrets of the human condition, or comment trenchantly upon current events in a way that makes us rethink the world around us.
Sometimes, though, you just need to escape from the world around you for a few hours, and to that end “The Illusionists: Live From Broadway” could not come to Austin at a better time.
“The Illusionists” (playing through Nov. 6th at Bass Concert Hall as a part of the Broadway in Austin series, presented by the University of Texas at Austin and Texas Performing Arts) is quite different from the usual Broadway fare that tours through Austin. Rather than presenting a big, splashy musical, The Illusionists presents a big, splashy magic show.
There is no storyline to follow in “The Illusionists” but instead a succession of acts in a cabaret style that gives a glimpse into a multitude of magical performance aesthetics. Jeff Hobson, “The Trickster” (each of the Illusionists has a similar nickname), ties the show together as master of ceremonies, with a variety of illusions and classic comedic gags straight out of the Vegas showroom playbook. His charming and witty performances are interspersed throughout the evening as the show transitions between various other Illusionists.
Kevin James, “The Inventor,” is a recurring act throughout the night, with a steampunk aesthetic that informs several tricks, some intimate and some expansive. Dan Sperry, “The Anti-Conjuror,” brings a snarky, Goth approach to the show, and also appears several different times.
Yu Ho-Jin, “The Manipulator,” has the first spotlight act of the night, with sleight-of-hand illusions that boggle the mind. Colin Cloud, “The Deductionist,” brings warmth and humor to a mind-reading illusion that ends up involving the entire audience. Finally, Andrew Basso, “The Escapologist,” and Ben Blaque, “The Weapon Master,” both give amazing performances that rely on skill and technique more than “magic,” providing the biggest thrills of the show via some actual death-defying artistry.
The final, crucial cast member is the cameraman through whose lens we see the close-up side of the illusions, via a live-feed projection. Thus “The Illusionists” can both dominate the stage with large-scale performances and also come out into the audience for small, intimate illusions.
Despite its name, “The Illusionists” is straight out of Vegas, with all the glitz, glamour, loud music, thrills, and goofy humor that you would expect. It is an evening of pure escapism (literally), and an excellent reprieve from the less-than-magical world outside our doors.