Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre has reassurance for anyone out there asking where the magic went. Its “direct from Broadway” engagement of The Illusionists is packed full of caped conjurers, sleight-of-hand wonderment, gravity-defying wizardry and what may be the greatest feat of sorcery of all these days — the transformation of skeptical, straight-laced audience resistance into a rollicking, daisy-chain orgy of guilt-free merriment.
I guess we can’t call the talented tricksters on stage here “new vaudevillians.” That is so 1980s. But all seven of these gents filled New York theater-goers with wonder six night a week and twice on Sundays. So lucky ticket-holders on the road are getting a bus-and-truck load of kinky illusions with most of the kinks worked out.
Some of the high-tech trappings from the Marriott Marquis Theatre have been toned down, but that’s not such a bad thing. The Vegas-style lounge dancing and darting laser beams are not allowed to distract from the more flesh-and-blood marvels at center stage. And just so you don’t miss a detail, there’s a giant video screen above the stage providing a live close-up view of each illusion.
The evening wisely offers an unannounced emcee, of sorts, in merry prankster Jeff Hobson, a glitz-and-glitter comedian who seemingly can turn any live audience member into a hilarious straightman.
Hopson also proves he can pull off some pretty fancy card tricks, although the show has a genuine master at this art in Yu Ho-Jin (“The Manipulator”). The South Korean conjurer can change the colors of a pack of playing cards, then erase their faces and flatten them all into a long silken scarf to wrap around his neck.
A genial older fellow named Kevin James turns mannequin parts into a pint-sized Charlie Chaplin, then cuts an assistant in half and wheels what’s left around the stage on a gurney. And what he can do to get a square of tissue paper up and dancing in thin air has to be seen not to be believed.
A couple of the performers have more in common with carnival midway attractions than magic. Ben Blaque “The Weapon Master” makes some pretty amazing shots with a crossbow, including slicing a piece of paper in half with one arrow. And the Italian “Escapologist” Andrew Basso pulls off a handcuffed Houdini-esque escape from a water tank using only lung power and a paperclip.
James More, as “The Deceptionist,” had to follow the evening’s only tech glitch — a long scene change in the dark — but managed to redeem things with some fire tricks and quick escapes. And ghoulish “Anti-Conjuror” Dan Sperry made sure the geek-factor was fully satisfied with a few yucky gore gimmicks and some memorable live bird sightings.
Ed Sullivan is gone so where else can you go to see such a variety of specialty acts? If you are a lover of magic, the floating ball is now in your court. Elevate that cell phone before the last remaining seats disappear.
Running Time: Two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
The Illusionists plays through April 3, 2016 at the Hippodrome Theatre at The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center – 12 North Eutaw Street, in Baltimore, MD. For tickets call (800) 982-ARTS, or purchase them online.
‘The Illusionists-Witness the Impossible’ at The Kennedy Center by Eric Denver.