Seven magical dudes calling themselves the Illusionists have descended in a cloud of laser-augmented smoke upon Chicago this week at the Oriental Theatre, and their show is spectacular, of course. In some ways, it is what you might expect from magicians. It is full of showmanship and the dramatic pastiche of magic from different eras and genres. Each persona is carefully groomed to be as unique from the next as their magical styles. It just so happens that they have honed the right formula to keep an audience engaged—a little bit of vaudevillian comedy, the right mix of audience participation, a touch of danger, some nostalgic Vegas and Broadway elements, a drop of cynicism and a large heap of mind-blowing magic tricks that keep everyone sitting up straight in their seats for the nearly two-hour show.
The show host Jeff Hobson, aka the Trickster, is the glue that holds the things together with his easy charm, his Liberace fashion sense, his surprising pickpocket skills and his willingness to play the buffoon. There is also a good blend of classic old timey magic, like the cinematic illusions of Kevin James (the Inventor) with the new, like the gritty shock illusion of Dan Sperry (the Anti-Conjurer). While James’ magic has a cast of characters, music and a grandiose sense of spectacle, Sperry’s is rather full of comic and cynical body language and banter, to the point of downplaying his own tricks all the while astounding us with the contradictory results.
In between, there are international acts like An Ha Lim’s (the Manipulator) astounding work of gracefully conjuring and handling an endless and increasingly colorful supply of cards in a kind of dance. Or Andrew Basso, the Escapologist’s much hyped-up escape inspired by Houdini that keeps us clenching our armrests. There is also Jonathan Goodwin (the Daredevil), whose crossbow abilities are put to the test in a terrifying manner and who inspired my plus-one to ask “Who is the real daredevil in this scenario?” Thank goodness Colin Cloud (the Deductionist) provides a relief from the tension with his spot-on sleuthing and seeming mind reading of the entire audience. In between each high risk, high tech and awe-inspiring act, Jeff Hobson emerges in another bedazzled outfit and amuses us with his more laid back lounge-inspired sleight-of-hand approach to magic.
What you get for your evening then is not just the buzz of a seeing a good spectacle, but in a sense, the whole history and gamut of magic, which has broad appeal to children, senior citizens and the sort of people who freak out audibly when astounded by an inexplicable act of magic. Of which I am one.
The Illusionists has a short run at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., through February 26, before it moves on to the next town. So grab your tickets while you can. They range from $18 to $77.