Review: ‘The Illusionists’ at Baltimore’s Hippodrome Theatre

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.

Andrew Basso: The Escapologist. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Andrew Basso: The Escapologist. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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.

Weapon Master. Photo by Joan Marcus.
Ben Blaque: Weapon Master. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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.



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