Of course, it's impossible to write about Derren Brown's show without writing about Derren Brown's show. He would smile at that. He's a wonderfully dry host for this evening of surprises, a skillful overseer of magic and illusion (he strenuously denies that he is a psychic). He toys with people, but not cruelly. He is charming, wry, brisk.
DERREN BROWN: SECRET Broadway Reviews
Derren Brown: Secret opened this Sunday, September 15 at the Cort Theatre!
From stage to screen, two-time Olivier Award winner Derren Brown has mesmerized millions worldwide with his unique brand of mind reading, persuasion, and psychological illusion. Now, for the first time ever, this U.K. phenomenon and Netflix star brings his talents to Broadway.
After a sold-out, critically acclaimed run off-Broadway at the Atlantic Theater Company, Derren Brown: Secret returns with a spellbinding experience that dares us - in the most jaw-dropping way - to take a closer look at the stories and beliefs that guide our lives.
The show, directed by Andy Nyman and Andrew O'Connor, who co-wrote the material with Brown, is infused with a theatrical polish that makes its substantial running time fly by. By the time it's over, you'll be thrilled you've been so oblivious to the evening's devilish machinations that you somehow didn't see a man in a gorilla suit snatching a banana from a podium onstage in plain view. Not once, but twice.
It's a simple yet still visually appealing show with a seemingly stripped-down stage, set in a blue-black void (scenic elements by Takeshi Kata) and dreamily illuminated by Ben Stanton. There's no Vegas glitz here even if there may be the urge to head to a casino after the show. (Old habits die hard.)
Brown's showmanship is never more apparent than in the second act when he reveals that we'll be treated to a short film. It turns out to be not much of a film. But Brown's build-up regarding the effect this movie may have on us is very much like those warnings at the end of a TV commercial for the latest cholesterol or diabetes drug. His list of possible dire symptoms dares you to watch. No doubt about it: Brown is the William Castle of illusionists.
And how about - yeah, how about - that extraordinary finale, in which six audience members help Mr. Brown finally disclose the secret that gives this show its title? Like the concluding scene of a Shakespearean romance, it interlaces a variety of jangling, disparate elements into the semblance of cosmic harmony. And God help me, I found myself in happy tears at a magic show.
What I will say is that it's very enjoyable evening with a very personable and wry-humored performer based around the notion that someone skilled in the power of suggestion can use vocal inflections, word usage and flat-out distraction to influence behavior. One can also use powers of observation to notice clues that can strongly suggest what someone is thinking.
So descriptors, all accurate, will have to suffice. Stunning. Captivating. Thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. Etc. Even his previous Netflix specials can't quite capture the dizzying buzz of watching him do what he does in person.
Indeed, one suspects that had Brown, whose credits also include Netflix specials, not been drawn to his current calling, he might have applied his powers of persuasion to a more nefarious one-become a cult leader, perhaps, or a marketing executive for an oil company. Let's be glad he chose the path he did, one that led him onstage, for Brown is as natural and charismatic a live performer as you're likely to see in any capacity this season, combining a razor-sharp wit with exuberant improvisational finesse and, notwithstanding the various gifts he displays here-which extend to sketch artistry, apparently-a disarming sense of wonder.
What you get is mental magic, sleight after sleight after sleight. Because Brown is a master showman, he doesn't just astound you. He starts off small, leaving you to turn in your seat to your companion to whisper, "How'd he do that?" By midway through the show (a neat two hours, plus an intermission that allows patrons to clamber across the stage), you are cordially nudging your random neighbor to ask, "How'd he do that?" By evening's end, you're practically shouting out the question on the sidewalk.
The secret of Secret's success lies not in the big-reveal tentpoles of the act (which are highly skillful variations on standard mentalist routines) but in the partly improvised patter that cloaks them in genuine risk and spontaneity. When things don't go perfectly smoothly-when the good-natured and self-assured Brown bobbles a prediction or two-the hitches only add to the tension and impressiveness of what he is doing, as when a juggler's dropped ball reminds you how many are still in the air. The show leaves you in a state of joyful bafflement. Can you believe it? You don't have to, and that's the fun. It's a con game, and Brown is a consummate pro.
The show is bound to keep audiences guessing how he does it night after night. Hard to believe it's just a bunch of tricks up his sleeve because he does seem to have some powers of thought control. And now that I've said it, I'm wondering who really wrote this rave review - was it me or was it him?