Broadway conjures magic with 'The Illusionists'
- Article by: MARK KENNEDY
- Associated Press
- July 1, 2014 - 7:40 AM
NEW YORK — Magic will be take center stage on Broadway this winter in a new, high-paced show but don't expect just one illusionist with a trick up his sleeve. Try seven.
"The Illusionists" starring seven international stars of magic — ranging from a card conjurer to a wizard with a crossbow — will play the Marriott Marquis Theatre from Nov. 26-Jan. 4, the first time in almost 20 years that a magic show plays Broadway.
"We're going to bring magic back to how it's supposed to be — a good, solid, inspiring sort of form of entertainment," said Dan Sperry, whose macabre show often features spinning blades and whose motto is "Magic No Longer Sucks."
The rest of the lineup includes Italy's star escape artist Andrew Basso, Belgium's weapon specialist Aaron Crow, campy magician Jeff Hobson, illusionist and "America's Got Talent" veteran Kevin James and Yu Ho-Jin, a Korean who just won the title of "Magician of the Year."
"The idea was to take the seven greatest living illusionists in their respective fields and put them together. It's almost like The Avengers of magic," said Simon Painter, the show's originator and lead producer.
The show first sold out at the Sydney Opera House in 2012 and went on to play Singapore, Mexico, New Zealand, Brazil, Venezuela and Britain. A new version focusing on futuristic acts — "Illusionists 2.0" — debuted last year in Australia and a hybrid of the two shows now comes to Broadway, called "Witness the Impossibe." Tickets go on sale Tuesday.
Painter's goal is to do with magic what Cirque du Soleil did with circus — get rid of the dated lions and sequins and make it adult, sophisticated fun. His show has a throbbing rock beat and intelligent pacing.
"What we've done is make it a theatrical experience rather than it being a flashy, Las Vegas, showmanship experience. The theatricality was an important change that we made," he said.
The show will do a few tune-up stops around Thanksgiving in Akron, Ohio, and Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Then, after its six-week Broadway engagement, it hits the road in America, visiting Washington, D.C., Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Salt Lake City and Tampa, Florida, among other cities.
The last big magic show on Broadway was a David Copperfield special that played a few weeks in late 1996 and Sperry, who was inspired to do magic after seeing Copperfield at age 4, is aware of the pressure.
"We've got big shoes to fill," said Sperry, whose Broadway act is still being finalized but will likely include a shotgun. "It's like go big or go home. We really have to try and bring it."
To be sure, there's always been magic on Broadway, whether it's the tricks in "Pippin" to the costume changes in "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella." But the illusionists say magic deserves to be the main event.
"We're presenting it the way it deserves to be presented — not as a throwaway effect or an add-on to a song. But as a stand-alone act in and of itself," said Adam Trent, nicknamed "The Futurist," who will focus on technology-based illusions.
His act in particular takes advantage of the latest high-tech magic — high-definition screens, Wi-Fi video and 3-D live projections. "A lot of times, magic is the same thing dressed up in a different way," Trent said. "What I'm trying to do is really create a concept completely from scratch."
It's a long way from the stale, hocus-pocus image of birthday party magicians from the past. Copperfield's baton was picked up by David Blaine and now it's held by Sperry, who often resembles Marilyn Manson as he swallows razor blades or cuts off an audience member's arm.
"For years, magic kind of became the dorky, punchline thing in movies and TV shows. It was like, 'Hey, if you want to make the character a real dork, add the element that he's a magician,'" Sperry said. "I think it's coming around again where people are thinking magic's really cool again."
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