“The Illusionists – Live from Broadway,” which opened tonight for a six-day run in San Francisco’s Orpheum Theater is a surprising show. It is very much everything you expect from a Las Vegas-type glitzy magic show, but who would think that the MC would be the funniest, most entertaining part of the show?
Yes, he is, Jeff Hobson (called “The Trickster”), who introduces the show, does some mild-mannered card tricks, a bit of fire-eating, and gets willing audience participation – for me, at least, he was best, having everybody in stitches with sharp but kind, topical, venue-appropriate (meaning “San Francisco,” very much in quotes), mostly improvised humor. I cannot recall the last variety show where I awaited eagerly the return of the MC.
But even beyond the choice of Hobson, the two-hour long, fast-paced show rocks. The show at the Orpheum is part of a 45-city U.S. tour – yes, that’s 45! – so it was a bit strange to see initial opening-night gaffes, such as a curtain with a mind of its own during the descent of the cast in a cage, and then only the bottom half of the important close-up screen being visible for quite some time. All went well after that.
Without a program for the show – not really necessary for the enjoyment of the action – it’s hard to say who does what, and I found out only after the Tuesday performance that Yu Ho-Jin, “The Manipulator,” was injured and did not participate. It was Dan Sperry, “The Anti-Conjuror,” who starred in a dazzling act of transforming objects to live birds and back again… only to have them fly over the audience, stunning one and all.
(Note from Simon Painter, creator of “The Illusionists”: “During opening night, Yu Ho-Jin was struck by a prop during the performance and suffered a mild concussion. He was treated at a local hospital and released. Yu Ho-Jin will rejoin the show tonight (Wednesday).”
Marilyn Manson-lookalike Sperry had some spectacular work, but he also grossed out many in the audience inserting a quarter into his eye socket, recovering it from a too-realistically cut gash in his arm.
“Escapologist” Andrew Basso does just that, including the escape from Houdini’s Hanging Straitjacket (also called the Water Torture Cell, but Basso does it on dry land, much to my relief.
Following acts by Kevin James, “The Inventor,” and James More, “The Deceptionist,” Ben Blaque, “The Weapon Master,” uses a crossbow for scary precision-shooting involving objects and the inevitable pretty assistant holding those objects dangerously close. The finale of Blaque’s act still has me scratch my head – coordinated six crossbows set off by him while blindfolded… did I really see that?
As usual in the Orpheum, amplification is near the threshold of pain, so remember earplugs . And enjoy.