Categories: Day Tripping, Do As The Locals Do, Featured, Not-so-Vanilla Diva
Contributing Diva: Angela Rocco DeCarlo

the-illusionists-large-643x441Nearly everyone enjoys magic. When done well. As a journalist I’ve covered many such shows, for decades, including those at Los Angeles’ Magic Castle and the late, great, Harry Blackstone, Jr.’s stage shows, to name a few. The best word to encapsulate those experiences is: delightful. Magic shows have the power to lift one’s spirits in powerful ways to relax and allow the wonder of the unknown to transport the audience to another realm.

Segerstrom Hall, Segerstrom Centerfor the Arts, Costa Mesa, California, is featuring a magic show, The Illusionists –Live From Broadway. I couldn’t wait to see it.

It spotlights seven key performers and a bevy of female and male attendants. There are plenty of stunning effects, but some of the performers reek of the dark side, which is apparently their schtick, but is a long way from tuxedo-clad practitioners of yore. From the onset there seemed to be a current that was uncomfortable to me. Too much grittiness, hint of violence and some things downright creepy.

The show runs from Feb. 3, to 7th. Then moves on to the Pantages Theater, Los Angeles.
In case anyone wonders – what is the difference between an illusion and a trick I’ll offer this: usually an illusion conjures a back-story, is complicated, with some surprise woven into it…Such as Andrew Basso, the Italian water-torture escape artist’s presentation of Harry Houdini’s signature stunt. Meanwhile, a trick is usually self-sustaining and over quickly. This show has both.images

The Illusionists, as seen in the online video, as well as in a theater, is a dark, noisy, fast-paced stage show featuring well-known magicians Andrew Basso, Ben Blaque, Jeff Hobson, Yu Ho-Jin, Kevin James, James More and Dan Sperry. The show is the creation of Simon Painter, Tim Lawson and MagicSpace Entertainment, directed by Neil Dorward.

Press materials state the show played at the Sydney Opera House selling over 40,000 tickets in 10 days and has played in 50 cities in 15 countries. It features elements of pop culture, heavy metal in costuming, and somewhat silly host patter.

Now everyone has seen magicians do a body levitating or being put into a box and sawed intwo. Those two standbys get an ugrade. James Morehas upped the ante. This handsome actor commands the stage with his non-gimmicky look. Therefore, when he floats upon a pike and becomes impaled it is startling and not exactly comfortable. His other well-done place changes with vanishings are good theater.

images-2Still there’s a whiff of creepiness – there’s no polite way to become impaled – which continued with Kevin James’ chainsaw human divide.  There’s no box involved, no easy sawing into the box containing the usual assistant..
One second a “person” is seen standing at a gurney, next he’s hacked in half with the chain saw and his torso hoisted onto the gurney. James’ clever use of the two body part props is masterful, but nonetheless disconcerting.

Dan Sperry’s costume of black eyes, mouth, clothes lets the audience know this is not going to be nice. His trick, with the assistance of a woman from the audience, entailed having her write on a quarter, which he pretended to insert into his eye, only to have it emerge from a cut he made into his arm – blood and all. Truly a revolting effect.

Card manipulator, Yu Ho-Jin was elegant, and with the help of the TV screen accessible. He closed the show with a fanciful display of cards-turned-performer photos and an Orange County placard. The later might be needed to remind them where they are playing. It is presumed the audience knows its location.

All in all, the performers brandished scenes of mutilation, cutting, blood letting, weaponry, (Ben Blaque’s crossbow segment was riveting) fire, death threats, water torture routine, human dismemberment, changing places marvels and excellent card tricks. All projected on a giant television screen. Oh, and a sprinkling of not-very-amusing vulgar audience participation routines.  In fact, one such ploy the MC used was the ball in the pouch trick, available at any dime-store magic shop. A hapless lady from the audience was instructed to do various things with said pouch…including grasping it underneath and told to squeeze…yes,it was as audience cringe-inducing as it sounds.

images-1Now, let me say I don’t mind adult material when presented, say, in Puccini’s “Tosca.” I once took my seven-year granddaughter and her friend to see it and worried about the scene when Tosca stabs and kills the villain Scarpia, on stage. A woman killing someone on stage had never been seen before in an opera. She did it to prevent Scarpia from raping her. It is a violent scene. Nonetheless, the girls agreed, “She should do that.”

But I have to wonder about young children and this magic show.So during intermission I talked to a family with two youngsters…the father said all agreed the show was fine. I asked an older lady on the way out what she thought: “I liked it.”

However, an online review of the show in Durham, NC, last year, stated: “…the blood-letting cutting act using the quarter was very distasteful and disturbing, and should never be viewed by children of any age in the audience. ..the show is not a class act…cheap jokes and humor…”  Nonetheless, the Segerstrom audience gave the performers a standing ovation. So clearly there is an audience for black-clad magicians revisiting standby magic repackaged and presented in a new way.

Of course, every member of an audience brings personal history, experience and taste to any performance. The late Chicago movie critic, Roger Ebert, once described his method to me for judging a film. “I just go in, sit down and the let the movie happen to me”. That’s what I did. And hoped no nightmares would ensue. Which suggests the Roman saying: “De gustibusnon est disputandum” Meaning – Regarding matters of taste, there is no disputing.


Segerstom Hall
Segerstrom Center for the Arts
600 Town Center Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Tuesday–Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday at 2 & 7:30 p.m.
Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Tickets start at $25

Angela Rocco DeCarlo, a former Chicago journalist covers
entertainment, travel and culture. She resides in Orange, CA.

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