REVIEW: ‘Illusionists’ brings motley crew of magicians to Broadway

The Illusionists on Broadway stars Adam Trent as the Futurist. He's an expert in technology illusions. Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus.
The Illusionists on Broadway stars Adam Trent as the Futurist. He’s an expert in technology illusions. Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus.

NEW YORK — The return engagement of The Illusionists on Broadway, currently playing the Neil Simon Theatre through Jan. 3, presents the rare chance for New York theatergoers to see the art of magic in such a large venue. Of course, some magic tricks, especially sleight of hand, loses its power when the surroundings aren’t appropriately intimate. However, thanks to helpful camera operators and a big High-Definition screen that hangs for all to see, the illusions in The Illusionists always feel a few inches away.

At a recent family matinee, which play 11 a.m. on weekends and feature no intermission, the seven performers were in fine form, offering one mind-boggling routine after another.

The best of the bunch are probably Raymond Crowe as the Unusualist (read Hollywood Soapbox’s interview here), Yu Ho-Jin as the Manipulator and Adam Trent as the Futurist. Their routines are effective because of their simplicity and the absence of that cliche magician personality that can so often get in the way of a good performance.

Raymond Crowe offers his show-stealing hand-shadow routine in The Illusionists. Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus.
Raymond Crowe offers his show-stealing hand-shadow routine in The Illusionists. Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus.

Crowe offers some ventriloquism in a funny comedy routine and also closes the show with some exceptional shadow puppetry. Ho-Jin has only one routine in the family matinee, but it’s probably the single best five minutes in the show. He is able to work wonders with a deck of cards, spinning it around and around, disappearing the cards and making them reappear again, constantly making the impossible happen over and over again. It’s great fun to sit and watch his act closely, trying to find the secrets of how he’s able to pull so many cards seemingly out of thin air.

Trent’s routine wows and receives some well-earned laughs. He’s able to jump across the stage with the help of electronic screens and uses camera technology to make a card trick both personal and big enough for the Broadway stage.

Throughout the show, Jeff Hobson, also known as the Trickster, provides emceeing duties. In between the illusions he offers humorous asides, many times with the help of the audience. For those unsuspecting theatergoers sitting in the first few rows, you’ve been warned. At times, his comedy seemed out of place with the rest of the show; some of the one-liners fell flat, at least on the adults. That said, Hobson is obviously a consummate performer, someone dedicated to ensuring the audience has a good time. His hosting responsibilities are mostly in good fun and keep the performance rolling along.

Yu Ho-Jin stars as the Manipulator in The Illusionists on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Vianna.
Yu Ho-Jin stars as the Manipulator in The Illusionists on Broadway at the Neil Simon Theatre. Photo courtesy of Vanessa Vianna.

Dan Sperry is the Anti-Conjuror in the show, and at the family matinee, his two acts were something to behold. It’s best not to give away the premises of each routine because the joy of experiencing of The Illusionists is the unknown factor. Audience members constantly ask, what will happen next? Sperry’s unique brand of magic molds together classic illusions with a rock flair.

James More is the Deceptionist, and Jonathan Goodwin is the Daredevil. Both illusionists offer intense routines that earn the label of death-defying. Goodwin, as he tells the audience, is not on the stage of the Neil Simon Theatre offering magic though. His act, one of them involving a crossbow, is genuine and real. One slight mistake seems to be the difference between life and death (he has a helpful assistant while on stage).

The Illusionists doesn’t re-event the wheel, and at times it can feel better suited for a Las Vegas stage than a Broadway one. However, the performers give the show their all, and many of the illusions are rich with mystery and cause instant head-scratching. A little less comedy and “performance,” and a little more emphasis on the magic can keep this show coming back to New York City every holiday season.

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

  • The Illusionists
  • Directed by Neil Dorward
  • Featuring Dan Sperry, James More, Raymond Crowe, Jonathan Goodwin, Yu Ho-Jin, Jeff Hobson and Adam Trent
  • Running time: 90 minutes (family matinee); 2 hours with intermission (other performances)
  • Currently playing the Neil Simon Theatre at 250 W. 52nd St. in Manhattan, N.Y. Click here for more information on tickets.
  • Rating: ★★★☆

John Soltes

John Soltes is an award-winning journalist. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Earth Island Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, New Jersey Monthly and at Time.com, among other publications. E-mail him at john@hollywoodsoapbox.com

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