INTERVIEW: New Jersey is ready to become magical with ‘The Illusionists’

The Illusionists has been around the world and back again with its successful tour of death-defying, jaw-dropping illusion acts. The spectacle has played Broadway and Sydney, and everywhere in between, and this week, they stop Jan. 24-25 at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

This particular rendition of the magic show will feature Jonathan Goodwin, The Daredevil; An Ha Lim, The Manipulator; Colin Cloud, The Deductionist; Jeff Hobson, The Trickster; and Kevin James, The Inventor.

James has been interested in magic almost his entire life, and his passion for the art form has brought him great success. He has appeared on America’s Got Talent on TV and The World’s Greatest Magic Show in Las Vegas. In 1988, the Magic Castle, the respected institution in Los Angeles, named James the Parlour Magician of the Year. He followed that accolade with 2003 and 2008’s Stage Magician of the Year.

Recently, James talked with Hollywood Soapbox about his upcoming performances in New Jersey. Here’s what he had to say:

On his acts during the show …

“Well, I’m called The Inventor because I invent all my own magic, so hopefully you will see things that you’ve never seen before. And, you know, I’m kind of the guy doing all the big stuff in the show this time around. … When I’m creating my routines, I try to find ways to connect with the audience that’s on some sort of an emotional level like sometimes the routine will be shocking, or another time it will be nostalgic, something that illustrates the innocent sense of wonder of a kid.

“I do a thing in the middle of the audience with a little girl about 6 or 7 years old, and I take a paper napkin and crumple it into a ball. And it starts to dance. Now I’m completely surrounded in the middle of the audience, and we’ve got a high-def camera zoomed in on us. So it’s projected on a big LED screen, so you see the faces of the people around me as well, not seeing how anything’s animating.

“Then I get her to point her finger at it, and she ends up making it move, too. And the beautiful little expression that she has at that moment just kind of sends electricity to the crowd when she thinks she is actually doing the magic. Then I twist it into a paper flower, and it levitates. It bursts into flame and changes into a real rose that she gets to take home with her.”

On making it snow at The Illusionists …

“I have a lot of different vibes with my routines. I try to make them all very different. At the end of the show, I make it snow on the audience when I talk about my first impression of snow as a kid. Hopefully that brings back memories of other people’s joyous times in the snow, like sledding with their friends and family and making snowmen. So, yeah, it’s a lot of different emotions hopefully.”

On how he became attached to The Illusionists phenomenon …

“Well, at first it was a three-week job in Sydney at the opera house, and that’s all we thought it was going to be. And so they headhunted us, and so we got invited to have a meeting with the producer. We just thought it was going to be that — three weeks and that was it — but it had some amazing synergy. They sold out immediately at the opera house. The audiences just really liked it. It was the right moment for the show, and it took off.

“Right away we started doing a lot of international stuff. In fact, we had been performing three years without ever performing in the United States, just all out-of-the-country things, and then we a few years ago we did Broadway. And that kind of launched our North American tours. Now there are units in different places. We’ve got a unit touring in Europe and one in North America this year, and we’ve got other projects in Cancun, [Mexico], and Dubai and all over. It’s kind of grown amazing legs.”

On working with other magicians on stage …

“It makes it more fun, that’s for sure, because some of these guys I’ve known for 30-40 years. Jeff Hobson and I — he’s The Trickster, he’s the emcee of the show — we were competing in the same magic contests when we were 13. So we go way back, so it’s fun. It’s like you’re magic family. It makes the rigors of traveling much nicer to be with friends that you like.”

On the audience participation in the show …

“We do use audience participation, and you never know what they’re going to say or do or how they’re going to react. It does bring that immediacy to it. You can’t be on autopilot, that’s for sure. It keeps it fresh for us, too, in many ways, so I can’t imagine doing a show without that audience participation stuff. It keeps us entertained as much as the audience.”

On how he first became interested in magic …

“I was in elementary school, and this magician came to our school to perform an assembly. And the magic bug hit me pretty hard. I loved it. I became a hobbyist immediately and went to the library. We had six magic books. I was the only one checking them out over and over, and then Doug Henning burst onto the scene. In the early ’70s, he became a huge force on TV, bringing magic back to life. He really set the hook for me. He’s the one that made it to the point where I knew that that’s all I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com

The Illusionists will play Jan. 24-25 at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Click here for more information and tickets.

Photo: Kevin James stars as The Inventor in the successful magic show The Illusionists. Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus.

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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