author: Ali S

THE CHICAGO MAGIC LOUNGE

☆☆☆☆☆

As cheesy as the phrase ‘the talk of the town’ is, the Chicago Magic Lounge has already built a notable reputation for some of the best evening entertainment in Chicago. As deserving as the magicians are for this renown, it would be near professionally negligent not to begin with the role of the Lounge itself as a contributing character to the show. What has been created here is impressive to the point of utterly remarkable. From the time you enter through a laundromat – and no more secrets will be revealed about that, you’ll have to find out for yourselves – every step within the Lounge is a perfectly curated experience with mysteries and history in every nook and cranny. One could probably visit fifty times and see something new on each of them, both in their surroundings and in the magic performed for them.

At the early evening show on April 28th 2018, the featured stage act was performer AJ Sacco. A man of flexible flair, Sacco had also been one of the wandering magicians doing close up magic for attendees during the preceding cocktail hour. Sacco’s close up easy and amiable demeanor shifts seemingly effortlessly to a cheeky onstage persona. At some points clowning around with silly and undeniably funny tricks, Sacco also has turns of magician-as-beat poet, an unexpected but compelling act.

Sacco led for the headlining stage act, Mago Gozner. Hailing from Mexico, Gozner jokes about having a poor understanding of English, but he certainty understands how to win the crowd. Radiating a kind of affable self consciousness, Gozner excels at including members of the audience in his show while making them a part of the joke, not the butt of it. To be completely straightforward, Gozner excels at every moment of his performance, executing tricks with everything from cards to Rubix cubes to toilet paper with near perfect comedic timing.

Although there are only two acts to the main event, it is extremely worthwhile to swing for the extra post-show show in the Lounge’s 654 Club. On this night performed by Justin Purcell, the half hour of magic in the 654 Club gives an opportunity for intimate close up magic. At this point in the night most of the audience has been drinking for at least two hours, and some people will have had quite a lot.  The combination of the close quarters and their own personal intoxication means that some attendees are, if not exactly unruly, vocally overexcited. The single most remarkable magic performed by Purcell is just how well he handled these people. This is not to say he isn’t an excellent conjurer, but his ability to go along with the (repetitive, unyielding, loud) exclamations shouted at him without giving them the spotlight was one of the most impressive things to see all night. Purcell also impresses with some very classic magic performed with such dexterity and charming sincerity that it is impossible not to be dumbfounded, even if you’re familiar with the concepts. Far from being just an added bonus, Purcell’s performance at the 654 Club is an integral aspect of the Chicago Magic Lounge experience.

The magic scene in Chicago may not be in it’s golden age anymore, with men in top hats sauntering around, sawing women in half (which many women are probably okay with ending), and committing trademark infringement, but the Chicago Magic Lounge seems to serve as a promise that the greatest parts of this scene will never die. Not only is this theatre a worthy successor to the magic of days gone by, but it is a vibrant and exciting reminder that truly good magic is eternal and there’s so much more to be delightfully deceived by.

CHAMPIONS OF MAGIC

☆☆☆

The British have a long history of invading America, in so many different ways. But one of the most unexpected invasions to date (although this is perhaps up for debate) is that of the British magicians. Having spent several years touring throughout the UK, the Champions of Magic have arrived on US soil in an attempt to internationally stun and amaze and triumph, as any good champion should- and as these five magicians have.

Although a team effort, the strength of the Champions is not in any form of group chemistry or magic genre alignment- the Champions almost never share the stage (with the exception of double act Young & Strange) and they perform very distinct styles of trickery. No, instead, their power is instead in representing all the relationships an audience member can have with magic.

‘Magic as wonder’ is exemplified by Edward Hilsum, a remarkable magician with terrifyingly adept fingers. In his first act totally mute, and even after that quite reserved in patter, Hilsum still manages to create the kind magic that makes his audience fall similarly silent in enchanted awe as objects appear and disappear effortlessly in front of their eyes.

For Fay Presto, the relationship inspired is perhaps more ‘magic as nostalgia’ or even ‘magic as a cultural institution.’ The tricks are classic and the humor is dry, and a beat too sharp for the audience- although we all get the joke, albeit a few seconds too late, but if you can keep up Presto leaves you as amused as impressed with her magical manipulations.

The mind reader of the Champions, naturally, is responsible for ‘magic as a challenge’, perhaps the most engaging relationship of them all. There’s always something a little bit combative between magicians and the audience- the man or woman on stage is there to trick us, after all, and everyone wants to be astute enough to catch them in the act. But nothing is more tricky than when they can even see into your mind- as Alex McAller seems to do. Bouncing from knowing the cards you have to the item you’ll pick to the names and words safely stored only in your memory, McAleer’s effusive energy makes him impossibly charming despite the frustration he inspires by being far too clever. If McAleer wasn’t on the top of his game at the Waukegan, IL show, then he has far too much game for one man.

Finally, the most important relationship, ‘magic as the joke’, is supplied by Richard Young and Sam Strange. While most the Champions are funny in their own ways, Young & Strange take the humor of the art to a whole new level. Filled with a laddish arrogance that the audience is delighted by despite themselves, this duo purposefully makes their illusions utterly ridiculous but in the best possible way, throwing grand illusions at the audience while simultaneously refusing to take themselves even a tiny bit seriously.

The Champions of Magic, despite gamely sharing this triumphant title, are more accurately four magic shows in one. Although this does create a little stylistic whiplash, we are ultimately fortunate for it, for there’s something for everyone and anyone to appreciate in this artful, magical experience.

THE ILLUSIONISTS

☆☆☆

The Illusionists claim to be the “largest touring show in magic history anywhere,” but it is not just in size that they dominate the stage magic world. This show features a broad breadth of magic sub-fields, ensuring that no matter what style sparks your interest, there’s something spectacular for you at this performance.

The magical emcee of the Illusionists is Jeff Hobson, whose showmanship is the greatest boon to the performance as a whole. This comedy magician has a grandiose, flamboyant persona and wickedly slick wit, with a clever crack at the ready no matter what his volunteers or the audience do. Not only are the jokes fast but his hands as well, and in one memorable case, his tongue.

Attending a magic show, an audience expects to see some things they can’t explain. But having the thoughts plucked right out of their minds has it’s own special shock value. This illusion is delivered by Colin Cloud. Billed as ‘the Deductionist,’ the comparisons to Sherlock Holmes are blatant. Funnier than Benedict Cumberbatch and more dapper than Jeremy Brett, Cloud’s astute predictions are both impressive and terrifying.

Andrew Basso is  ‘The Escapologist’, and recreates one of Houdini’s greatest feats, the Water Torture Cell. Although, if the reaction of the ladies in the audience is any indication, he’s a bit more fit than his inspiration. It’s a bonus for them that the cell walls are clear, so we can see exactly how Basso expertly breaks out of his bonds, even under the intense pressure of holding his breath for several minutes.

Anti- Conjurer Dan Sperry strikes an attitude contrast to his peers, with no geniality to offer Sperry instead has a sullen menace that pairs appropriately with his wince-worthy tricks. No matter how desperate you are to see what’s going down, it takes a brave soul to peek through their fingers at this grotesque magic.

Rounding out the cast are ‘The Inventor’ Kevin James, with dramatic displays of craftily constructed magic, ‘The Manipulator’ Halim An with a beautifully choreographed sleight of hand, and ‘The Daredevil’ Jonathan Goodwin with heart-stoppingly stressful stunts that are also much to the credit of his assistants.

It is perhaps not a straight-forward compliment to say that the Illusionists are like magical hors d’oeuvres. Delivering short performances in rapid- fire, you never exactly feel like you’ve gotten the meat of the magic show, or like you’ve gotten to see each individual magician at their best. Just when you get attached to one flavor of magic, you’re two conjurers later. But there is an undeniable benefit to this recipe, that even if one magician isn’t to your taste, you get at least three more that are. Food metaphors aside, because they’re getting labored, The Illusionists is the perfect magic show to make you realize that you do actually like magic shows.

March 29, Heymann Performing Arts Center, Lafayette LA.

More information about the Illusionists and further dates of their tour can be found here.

BIBS ‘N’ BOBS RELOADED

☆☆☆☆

Bibs ‘n’ Bobs Reloaded is a magic show exactly as it sounds, being constructed of simple objects from an ordinary Morrisons bag. As well as, of course, being a pun on magician Elliot Bibby’s surname. This show is a prime example that something created with the most humble of objects can become something fantastic.

As it is an unavoidable aspect of the Fringe, venue conditions are generally not fair play to comment on in a review. But when an act surpasses the limitations of their stage spectacularly, it is worth noting upon. Bibby transcends the obstacles his particularly difficult venue with impressive agility. It isn’t just his understanding of the necessity to elevate his tricks enough for everyone to see- although that is something a lot of Fringe magicians, including ones with ticketed shows, could learn from. But more specifically to his art, Bibby wove together his act so well that it grabs your attention away from any discomforts and distractions.

Bibby’s skill is in his presentation as well as attention to detail. Composed and dapper, Bibby charms without any of that stereotypical magician smarminess. His onstage persona is just genuine enough to foster a connection with the audience, but aloof enough to maintain a sense of mystery. He expertly handles heckling, both of the negative and of the positive but obnoxiously intrusive varieties. He has unfaltering intuition of when to humor the interjections and when to ignore them, having literally no missteps in this regard despite it being prevalent throughout his show.

In terms of actual illusions, Bibby intertwines the traditional and the imaginatively unique to create masterful magic. Using everything from cards and fire to the titular bibs and bobs in his bag, Bibby nonetheless maintains the needed cohesiveness to make his show polished and professional. Slick but funny from beginning to end, Elliot Bibby unquestionably proves his magical prowess and potential in Bibs ‘n’ Bobs Reloaded.

Originally published here.

AAABEDUATION: A MAGIC SHOW

☆☆

“We are the first show… in the Edinburgh Fringe Guide” magicians Malin Nilsson and Charlie Caper crow happily, claiming this as the reason for their strangely named show. This seems odd to be the sole reason to name a show, but as no other explanation is given, we just have to go with it. This sets the trend for this show which might have been inspired at the start, but doesn’t exactly follow through into a satisfying result.

Nilsson and Caper both hail from Switzerland and have been doing magic together for several years, so it is unfortunate that their chemistry together is the weakest aspect of the show. Caper is the comedy magician of the pair and Nilsson the choreographed illusionist. Instead of the two parts of the performance complementing each other, the combination is jarring in its delivery. However, they are both reasonably strong separately, so not a hopeless dealbreaker.

For most of her part of the show, Nilsson does magic tricks silently to music. They are very elegantly performed and she has an excellent sense of stylistic development, but they are a bit hackneyed. Even if someone only has seen a couple other magic shows, they have probably seen these illusions before. That’s no problem if presented with original flair and personality, but as she does them they just come across stale and the applause is accordingly muted.

Caper delivers with such endearing cheesiness that even things that shouldn’t be funny are because of his perfect presentation. An ongoing joke with a bow tie never fails to gain laughter and his great persona means that – although he also uses traditional magic in parts – it comes across as more original and compelling, if not as well rehearsed.

Caper and Nilsson struggle with integrating the two distinctive parts of their performance, but if they can solve this problem, Aaabeduation will succeed in becoming a bewitching show.

Originally published here

PETE FIRMAN: SUPER DUPER

☆☆☆☆

‘It’s fucking magic.’ Pete Firman says this as a joke, but those three words are his show in a nutshell. Blunt, irreverent, and frustratingly riveting, Peter Firman: Super Duper is a manifestation of ‘how the hell did he do that’ in sixty minutes. Often, to enjoy a magic show, an audience needs to apply a suspension of disbelief, not because the magic is poor, but because you are rational. But in Super Duper, you don’t need to try with your belief, because Firman has deftly claimed it for himself within mere minutes of walking (or rather, appearing) onstage.

Firman is the master of ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ magic, a slick professional whose show rattles with hilarity and wonder. There are absolutely no seconds of dead air in this performance; he fills every moment with his pithy wit. Caught up in these bursts of intense enthusiasm and crackling humour, the audience is drawn wholly into his remarkable illusions. His tricks were magic classics, but done with such skill and ease that even someone looking in all the right places wouldn’t see how they were being fooled. Not that anyone could possibly hope to look in those right places.

Firman interacts easily with his spectators, both in the case of his participants and of heckling members of his audience who might dare to get up in the middle of the show. (Oh how the tables turn.) His humour is harsh enough to be hilarious but not too mean to cross a line, and means that even if someone has stood up in front of you to sneak off the the bathroom, Firman still keeps full command of your attention.

Pete Firman: Super Duper is a brilliant magical performance that will guarantee you an amazing night of bewildering illusions and breathless laughter.

Originally published here.

PETER ANTONIOU: HAPPY MEDIUM

☆☆☆

The show is called Happy Medium, and Peter Antoniou introduces himself early into it as a ‘Comedium’, but these excellent puns are far from the best part of this show.

The distinctive comedic style Antoniou weaves through his show can be explained with one example – “This man has paperclipped a sticker to himself.” Of all the astounding mind reading and unknowable-fact-knowing, this line is the thing that stuck out the most. Out of context, this humour in this is bewildering. But it was improvised and delivered in such gently mocking deadpan that it became hilarious, an example that is indicative of Antoniou’s persona. It works perfectly in the atmosphere of he has created in Happy Medium.

Although set up as a stage show, this magical experience perfectly conveys the ambiance of a psychic reading. The audience can all see each other, encouraging people to banter back forth as Antoniou reads the deep secrets of their minds. This also means that everyone can see the looks of wonder on their neighbours’ faces when they have a secret revealed. It also tends to favour larger groups of friends monopolising the interactivity of the show, but Antoniou avoids this problem for the most part by making sure to involve almost everyone in the audience.

The performance perhaps drags at times, seeming strained when some of Antoniou’s psychic skills struggle to accurately hit. If this had happened only slightly less, it would have lent legitimacy to his role. But it extends too much, making some moments just feel like desperate guessing. Some of the audience hassles him about this, but for the most part Antoniou manages to quietly charm each and every spectator. Even when he takes a moment to get to the dramatic reveals, we are willing to wait for it, because of his endearingly awkward humour.

Peter Antoniou: Happy Medium is a charmingly understated show, combining hilarity with clairvoyance into an engaging performance.

Originally published here