What tickles about illusion and stage magic, of course, is that moment when the craft and misdirection practiced by the performer are so smooth, so conceptually complete, that the audience feels in on the trick. The best magicians, in other words, make their viewers feel they’re part of the event (which is the most brilliant part of the con).
The Illusionists puts together a dream team of magicians in an array of styles and has them all more or less play to their strengths while keeping the action moving apace—you shouldn’t have time to reflect too much in a show like this, and for the most part you don’t. The action feels probably more old-timey than the flashy costumes and live bumping music would intend, but it’s admirably compelling in an age when digital effects and Photoshop have made visual trickery a mundane element of everyday life.
And that’s another nifty trick—while the show purports you will “witness the impossible,” we’re all pretty much doing that all the time these days, and yet The Illusionists entertains on the strength of its performances: escapist Andrew Basso’s Houdini routine, Kevin James’s jarring mechanical inventions, Yu Ho-Jin’s fairly astonishing sleight of hand on a human scale (rendered in detail on a big screen overhead), and Jeff Hobson’s campy mix of semi-bawdy standup and old-school illusions.
You don’t come away utterly astounded (which is what you hope for, of course). Dan Sperry’s street magic comes across as self-indulgent and unfocused when juxtaposed with his peers, and by the end you find yourself waiting for one more eye-popper that doesn’t come (though, to be fair, a final turn by Yu Ho-Jin indicates this crew’s reverence for traditional technique over big spectacle). Still, it’s a show that delivers genuine moments of wonder, discomfort, and that delightful feeling that we’re all conspiring to make the world magic.
The Illusionists plays through Sunday at the Ordway.