BWW Review: THE ILLUSIONISTS - LIVE FROM BROADWAY: A Great Escape
Live From Broadway
Director/Creative Producer, Neil Dorward; Creative Producer, Simon Painter; Executive Producer, Tim Lawson; Lighting Designer, Jared Sayeg; Costume Designer, Angela Aaron; Video Designer, NICE Studios; Illusion Designer, Don Wayne; Illusion Director, Mark Kalin; Associate Director, Kirsty Painter; Associate Director/Choreographer, Jean Rapp; Composer, Evan Jolly; Additional Compositions, Eddie Cole & Dustin Moore
CAST: Colin Cloud, The Deductionist; Raymond Crowe, The Unusualist; Paul Dabek, The Trickster; Jonathan Goodwin, The Daredevil; An Ha Lim, The Manipulator; Sabine Van Diemen, The Sorceress; With: Alison Karoly, Ashleigh McCready, Nick Raiano, Jesus Sepulveda Maldonado
Performances through March 10 as part of its North American tour and the 2018-2019 Lexus Broadway In Boston Season at the Emerson Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 888-616-0272 or www.BroadwayInBoston.com
It may be that the most challenging aspect of writing a review of The Illusionists - Live From Broadway is to find words that have not been used repeatedly to describe the experience. I mean, surely, there must be more choices than "amazing," "awesome," "jaw-dropping," and "mind-blowing" to relate what it is like to witness this show. From start to finish, the six-member team of multi-talented performers takes turns completing stunning works of prestidigitation, illusion, and daring, mixed with charm, comedy, and extraordinary lighting and sound effects, so maybe those adjectives are ubiquitous for good reason.
The Illusionists has been on Broadway and traveling around the world for nearly a decade, so it is a finely-tuned machine that knows how to capture and hold an audience. The National Tour cast gracing the stage of the Emerson Colonial Theatre consists of Colin Cloud (The Deductionist), Raymond Crowe (The Unusualist), Paul Dabek (The Trickster), Jonathan Goodwin (The Daredevil), An Ha Lim (The Manipulator), and Sabine Van Diemen (The Sorceress), with a quartet of Magician's Assistants (Alison Karoly, Ashleigh McCready, Nick Raiano, Jesus Sepulveda Maldonado) whose athleticism and dance skills add some extra flair to the already hefty entertainment value.
There is no single star of the show, each artist appearing as the star of their own segment, but I must admit a slight favoritism for Cloud's feats. He is a thought reader, described in his cast bio as a "psychic savant," and he outdoes himself from one piece of his act to the next. Like most of his counterparts, he brings audience members onstage to participate and surprises with his ability to guess names and birthdates, before moving on to even more impressive achievements. Among those are playing a shell game with a very pointy nail standing upright in one of four brown paper sacks which he unceremoniously smashes with the palm of his hand, without impaling himself or his helper from the audience; discerning the favorite celebrity of one his guests before revealing a drawing of said celebrity that was concealed in an envelope before he came onstage; and determining the name and birthdate of a young girl seated high up in the balcony. How far do those telepathic vibes travel anyway?
Dabek is a delightful performer who really connects with the audience. His tricks are magical as he makes an object disappear and reappear, contained in a banana inside a box on the opposite side of the audience. He is comical and quick-witted, especially when he brings a 7-year old boy onstage to be his foil and finds him to be somewhat less malleable than he intended. If Dabek brings something light and airy to the ensemble, it is Goodwin who provides the dark side. He freely admits that he is not a magician, and his exploits are clearly the result of detailed planning and practice, practice, practice. As he preps his stunt, he explains how he adds further jeopardy so that something already difficult is made to appear crazy dangerous. Spoiler alert: no one is injured during his performance, although there may be a close call.
Crowe brings to mind Teller (of Penn and Teller), partly due to his diminutive stature, and, although he does speak, he also makes wonderful use of his mime skills in a clever dance with the suit jacket of an audience member. The high point of Crowe's act is his signature piece "The Shadows," in which he demonstrates an amazing array of hand shadows to the soundtrack of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" (watch it online). Another man who makes good use of his hands is An Ha Lim, an award-winning card manipulator, whose skill and flair make your eyes spin in your head as you try to figure out where all those cards are coming from. The lone female member of the cast, Van Diemen does a pair of fairly traditional magic tricks, including escaping from a locked box and swapping places with an assistant. She also shows great daring by participating in one of Goodwin's death-defying stunts.
Throughout the show, a videographer follows all of the action and everything is projected on a large screen above the stage. Combined with the exciting lighting effects and dramatic musical soundscape, it feels like watching a reality television broadcast. However, the engaged audience and the irrepressible performers let you know this is all happening in real time and you...are...there. It must be noted that the audience is definitely an important part of the show and many are called upon to take part. Consider yourself forewarned if your seats are near the front or on the aisle. The night I attended, there was no shortage of patrons looking for their fifteen minutes of fame. At the very least, The Illusionists can make your troubles disappear for a couple of hours.
Photo credit: Raymond Crowe © The Illusionists