Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The Illusionists is not the usual fare for the Kennedy Center's Opera House, with its flurry of smoke clouds and laser beams, its supporting company of sleek dancers and "magic assistants," its live music performed onstage by a band called Z, and its general sense of over-the-top spectacle. It's very entertaining for what it is: a high-level touring magic show with seven headliners, so diverse in skill and manner that audiences who don't care for one will probably enjoy at least one of the others.
This show recently played the Marquis Theatre on Broadway. Its week in Washington is part of a 30-city U.S. tour.
As one might expect, audience participation is an important part of the show. While some of these interactions are benign"The Inventor" (Kevin James), a cheerful mad scientist, animates a piece of paper for a childothers have a definite "Uh-oh" factor, as when "The Warrior" (Aaron Crow) uses a bow with a laser-guided sight to help him shoot an apple off a woman's head. The audience knows consciously that nothing bad will happen, but that underlying uncertainty is part of the performers' spell.
Not all of the magicians are as aggressive as Crow or "The Anti-Conjuror" (Dan Sperry) with his Goth makeup and black outfit, enticing an audience member into playing a form of the shell game that could potentially cause injury. ("Google 'Russian Roulette gone wrong,'" he says during this stunt.) "The Manipulator," Yu Ho-Jin, has a gorgeous way with sleight-of-hand as he turns a scarf into a deck of cards, and "The Escapologist" (Andrew Basso) magnetizes the audience with his version of Harry Houdini's "Water Torture Cell" routine.
"The Futurist" (Adam Trent) exhibits charm as he amuses and intermittently serves as master of ceremonies. However, "The Trickster" (Jeff Hobson) performs in a self-consciously "fabulous" style that detracts from his skill as a magician and just seems out of place in a performance devoted to bringing the art of illusion into the 21st century.