16
Jan
19

The Illusionists: Direct From Broadway

 

The Illusionists: Direct From Broadway

Simon Painter, Tim Lawson, Andrew Spencer & Alexandra Hirst

QPAC Concert Hall

January 11 – 19 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

 

Why do people continue to come in droves to experience The Illusionists? It’s a mystery. The magic of the theatre…and savvy marketing.

 

Paul Dabeck, enigmatic and entertaining host and emcee of the latest incarnation of The Illusionists, direct from Broadway, is the highlight of the show, with magic tricks to amaze and lively, witty banter to amuse. I adore him. A natural entertainer of the highest calibre, Dabeck is the most down to earth of the group, with the genuine charm and good humour lacked by the others. His style is sophisticated and super relaxed, with just the right amount of spice; he’s a crowd favourite and the highlight of opening night in Brisbane. 

 

 

Every other act comes with a super-size-me serving of spray-on cheddar jack cheese, nope, not even pepper jack, just that old-school schmaltzy, sickening, pausing-for-effect, praise-me style that we thought had died out just as the rest of the circus and burlesque worlds continued to evolve, keeping only the very best aspects of vaudeville and real showmanship, as demonstrated by Hugh Jackman in The Greatest Showman, and Todd McKenney – I anticipate – in Barnum.

 

Not everyone is immune and there are just a few who leap to their feet at the conclusion of the show, having clapped and cheered at each trick much louder than anyone else – in the Concert Hall it’s more obvious than it is anywhere else – and perhaps they’re all the mates of our Aussie escapologist poster boy, Sam Powers…or perhaps they really love this strangely halting show. The American cheese bookending each act has a different impact upon most though, slowing the pace and flow of the show, and distancing us from the entertainers and their art, putting it all on a very high pedestal instead of inviting us in, seducing us, bringing us anywhere near any sort of mystery surrounding each performance, except that we’re actually so physically close to the action to notice the glitches from the outset. I seem to recall this being a disappointment last time (2015) and like the anti-climax that comes with yet another close-up magic card trick rather than a magical spectacular full company finale, I wonder why there hasn’t been since then, an assistant director or one of the producers or publicists, making the same observations aloud. These clumsy errors are quick to happen and just as quickly glossed over, swept into the shadows in an instant – if you blink you miss them – but if you catch them, it’s hard to un-see such imperfections. As is the case with any disappointment in life, our high expectations are mostly to blame, and as much as we go in ready for anything, it’s a general expectation that anything of this calibre will be fairly flawless. 

 

 

Mark Kalin (The Showman) and Jinger Leigh (The Conjuress) perform an old ring trick, using jewellery taken from the hands of audience members, and it appears to be the real deal, but like disappearing and reappearing people, we don’t look too closely at the detail. Eliciting gasps and warm applause from the audience, these illusions are a couple of the best. Leigh’s manipulation of a glowing sphere is less convincing, especially when we see it disappear beneath a black cloth, despite her showgirl eyes and smile alluding to the magical powers of the cloth she triumphantly wields in the foreground.  

 

The frenetic energy of Chris Cox (The Mentalist) does not endear him to everyone, but apparently the success of his act is largely due to his “side-splitting, confident, silly, charismatic and mischievous sense of magic”. It’s all very well to admit to reading behaviour not minds as the basis for a potentially entertaining and highly amusing act, but make it entertaining. And amusing. And foolproof. This act was foiled on opening night by the father who had to remind his son exactly what costume Cox had told them before the show, was what he’d be wearing beneath his suit. 

 

Florian Sainvet (The Manipulator) is too ridiculously good looking to be human, and this is the most intriguing part of his act. Both he and Leonardo Bruno (The Alchemist) are less than convincing. This is a shame, both for the audience and the award-winning Berlin male model types. We won’t mention the pretty female assistants at all because included in the company, are the pretty male assistants also. More clothing. Less lighting. Fewer sexy moves. Whatever. 

 

 

Luckily for our Sam Powers (The Enigma), his life or death world-first suspended escape act is a success. He even has time, twice, to pause and pose, hanging upside down by his boot straps during the 2-minute race to remove himself from a straitjacket, and then from the hooks that hold him upside down, before a burning bear trap collapses on where he would otherwise have fallen to his death. THE NEW ELEMENT BEING A BURNING BEAR TRAP. There is at least some comedy in the ridiculous.

 

 

In 2015 we saw The Daredevil (Jonathan Goodwin) hoisted upside down and left to hang by his boots too, while a fuse was lit and flames crept towards his trousers, leaving him just sixty seconds in which to get free and put out that fire. Has Powers even raised the stakes? Again, chiselled good looks saves this entertainer from too much criticism. But as part of his persona, he’s almost too relaxed, nonchalant, so that we don’t actually care very much about him while he’s dangling from a rope, apparently struggling…we’re actually confident that he’ll be fine. All in all the scene lacks tension. This is typical of each act, with a grandiose buildup doing more harm than good, and causing those around me to snicker at times, and others to yawn. You won’t see that in the pull quotes. BUT YES ABSOLUTELY WITHOUT A DOUBT SOME PEOPLE LOVE IT. And it comes as no surprise because our reality television shows are still rating highly too.

 

Let’s just note that the particular performance style perhaps preferred by Australian audiences within the magical realm now, or always, is less about the grandiose and more abut the genuine entertainment value. This may be about to change with all the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas (we hope not), or it may depend on which aspect of their show we’re referring to…anyway, the Americans will get a run for their play money when Brisbane’s infamous duo The Naked Magicians take up a strictly limited MGM Grand run, opening February 13 at Brad Garrett’s Comedy Club. Now THAT’S entertainment!

 

A big, safe, shiny, eternally touring show, The Illusionists: Direct From Broadway likely won’t exceed expectations, but it’s a fun night out for the family and friends – let’s say three stars – and the shared experience will probably provide some entertaining fodder for a few days of dinner table conversation. It might even inspire a new generation of entertainers. But if you’re the type who won’t have the television on during dinner, and can’t name even one of our latest “celebrities” to find themselves stuck somewhere in Africa, you’ll agree that this impressive franchise also continues to glitter, but it isn’t gold. 


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