Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 24, 2015

The Illusionists-Live from Broadway

The Bushnell, Hartford, CT
through September 27, 2015
by R.E. Smith

“The Illusionists” is a magic and sideshow review that packages up timeless bits in shiny new ways, making for an entertaining evening that’s comfortably familiar while managing to amaze anew.

First, a few minor points to better understand the show structure. Despite the “Broadway” in the title, there’s no story here (or singing!), and that’s OK. Also, three of the seven performers are actually not magicians but rather showmen with nicknames like “The Escapologist” and “The Daredevil.” While they’re not pulling rabbits out of a hat, their presence adds to a sense of bearing witness to some cherished show-biz traditions.

“The Trickster,” Jeff Hobson is part “classic” street magician and part Liberace, who instantly has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. His are simple, traditional tricks with a “fabulous” spin. His diametric opposite is “The Anti-Conjurer,” Dan Sperry, whose own bio warns that his act is not for the weak of heart. With an avant-garde twinkle in his eye (masked by heavy Goth makeup), some of his illusions had people squirming in their seats. His routine with live birds, however, is fast paced, amusing, and beautiful. Yu Ho-Jin is a “manipulator” recently named “Magician of the Year” by his peers, whose graceful sleight-of-hand ability is nothing short of wondrous.

Andrew Basso has one act in the show, but it is a doozy: he re-creates Houdini’s “Water Torture Cabinet” escape. Many in the audience had to watch through their fingers as he hung suspended underwater for over 3 minutes, picking locks and holding his breath. It is definitely not something you see everyday, but something everyone should see at least once in person.

Many of the performers have been featured on television, but these acts are best appreciated live. The audience interaction with Jonathan Goodwin as he demonstrates a bed of nails, or escapes from handcuffs while in mortal danger, gives an intimacy that only amplifies the thrills.

“The Inventor,” Kevin James, notes that he is there to “remind people of that important sense of wonder they felt as a child.” His twist on sawing a person in half will certainly do that, as will this entirely unique evening of entertainment.