BWW Review: THE ILLUSIONISTS - LIVE FROM BROADWAY Returns to the Kennedy Center
Individually, they might amuse the captive audience of a cruise ship.
But combining five magicians in one show under the name The Illusionists has proven to be a popular attraction worldwide ever since it was first devised in Australia nearly six years ago. With its revolving casts of not quite household names in magic, the show gained a whole new cachet (ad name) when it briefly appeared on Broadway two years ago.
The touring show The Illusionists - Live from Broadway returned to the Kennedy Center this week following a successful run in 2015 with only a couple of holdovers from last time.
One is Adam Trent, who acts as kind of an emcee, mixing jokes with elaborate mentalist tricks (the card you drew on is now over here!). He also did a bit where he danced with a handful of life-sized images of himself projected on a screen, a nifty choreography that was called "the future of magic" though I saw something very much like it on Alice Cooper's Welcome to My Nightmare tour in 1975.
Indeed, bringing in magicians from their cruise ships, night clubs and, increasingly, segments on America's Got Talent, means they are discovering the "magic" of theatrical stagecraft that might be old hat to others. Projecting images on a scrim and then having a person suddenly appear behind it due to lighting? It's been done.
Trent even performed a song on a loop and pretended it had a little magic behind it, instead of just a recording device.
And the other returnee, Kevin James (not the comic), tried to evoke wonder by having snow flutter from the ceiling when in fact that's been part of every production of The Nutcracker for years.
Sure, there were a lot of things they did that confounded people that were right out of the standard magic books: cards that would jump from here to there, strangely floating origami and so forth. By now, though, we know that people don't really get cut in half, but fit into bases that are much wider than they appear; and that people don't just materialize in suspended glass boxes; the mirrors in them are just removed, right?
Some "close magic" involving coins and cards required the use of a video camera and overhead projection in the Eisenhower Theater, but the camera operators went beyond the kind of diversion provided by the flimsily-clad assistants on hand; they were complicit in the fakery.
No, that wasn't a live shot of the escapist named Krendl struggling in chains inside his box; it was likely all on tape, giving him time to appear suddenly in the back of the theater. While the camera focused on hands and cards in one of Trent's trick, we don't see the card in question ending up in the magician's mouth.
The manipulator Florian Sainvet conjured up a whole lot of rounded cards in his act, but he also seemed to want credit for having lines on his black body suit light up (for that we will thank batteries). A third place finisher on France's Got Talent, Florian never spoke to the audience, but nodded knowingly at them. Perhaps he was following the traditions of that other French art form, the mime.
The fifth performer on the roster wasn't really a magician at all, but the kind of act that was seen on vaudeville or many an old Wild West show - the sharpshooter.
For Ben Blaque, who wore his hair in the half-long half shaved goth manner, the weapon of choice was the crossbow. Honing the act in Branson, when he was a stage tech for a performer named Kirby VanBurch, he was a sure shot at hitting glitter-filled balloons (though it took two shots to get the ribbons that held the helium balloons down).
Things got personal when he moved to hitting apples on the head of his assistant, William Tell-style. Or, in the case of his complicated finale, off of his own head, after a whole chain reaction of crossbow actions.
Luckily, his was one of the few performers who didn't rely on audience participation, though just about everyone in the first several rows was a target for others.
There seemed something suspicious about some of the participants, and not just the one that turned out to be Trent in a rubber mask (alas, the cameraman had faked us out again). It was the woman who was chosen by Trent to hold a metal box with items that would be revealed to be the same thrown in a kind of litter box at the front of the stage before the show. Shown being given the box in the lobby before the show, she was wearing a completely different sweater than the one she now had on stage. Well, maybe that was magic too.
There's nothing to truly goose the awe here - no David Copperfield 747s materializing on stage or anything. If anything, the show goes smaller to rely on more close-in work than big. And a little of that goes a long way. Nonetheless, the show goes on quite a while, especially after a long intermission.
The gullible will find wonder in the tricks on hand while people cynical as me will have figured half the tricks out and not care about the other half. Maybe D.C. audiences are already weary from all of the illusions perpetrated here on a daily basis all year long.
Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with a 20 minute intermission.
The Illusionists - Live from Broadway continues through Jan. 7 at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F St NW. Tickets: 202-467-4600 or online.