Dan Sperry, one of the seven entertainers in The Illusionists: Live From Broadway, mocked the format during the show’s opening night at the Music Hall on Tuesday. Sperry wearily sighed “magic show” in a voice dripping with derision.
The Illusionists: Live From Broadway is a derivation of a production that debuted in Australia in 2012 before becoming an attraction in New York. The slight but delightful show contains plenty of the hokey elements that Sperry ridiculed. In spite of its old-fashioned components, the two-hour spectacle fulfilled its billing as an exciting showcase for “the next generation of magic.”
The lively trickery and daredevil exploits of the seven men would have been impressive even without the considerable glitz and deafening soundtrack that accompanied their efforts. While the presentation is laden with card tricks and many of the other tropes associated with conventional exhibitions of magic, the wizardry is executed at an extremely high level.
Jeff Hobson, a gifted comic and middling magician, acted as the flippant master of ceremonies. His interactions with members of the audience initiated roars of laughter. Hobson’s amusing bits provided continuity between the demonstrations of each performer.
Kevin James’ elaborate deceptions including a clever variation on the sawing-a-man-in-half caper were dazzling, but his simple interaction with an adorable girl in the audience was indelibly charming.
Colin Cloud, a Scottish man billed as “The Deductionist,” provided the evening’s most confounding how-did-he-do-that? ploy by seemingly reading several people’s minds. Sperry wore makeup that looked like an attempt at Japanese kabuki gone terribly wrong. His hysterical rapport with a conscripted assistant was even more entertaining than his somewhat revolting chicanery.
Live video projections on a screen above the stage displayed Sperry’s purportedly bloody arm in loathsome detail. Everyone but the people seated in the first two dozen rows likely spent as much time monitoring the screen rather than focusing directly on the performers. Even the most sensational card tricks and displays of sleight of hand are poorly suited for large theaters.
The video close-ups of Andrew Basso writhing in a water tank in a theatrical Harry Houdini-inspired stunt enhanced the drama. The anxious gasps that accompanied his escape reflected the Illusionists’ greatest trick: all thoughts of the often less-than-enchanting world beyond the doors of the Music Hall vanished during the enthralling show.
The Illusionists: Live From Broadway runs through Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Music Hall.
“The Illusionists” continues through Sunday at the Music Hall. See theaterleague.com/kansascity or call 816-421-7500.