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TRENT JAMES: PURE LIES

☆☆☆☆

It cannot be underestimated what a boon the Chicago Magic Lounge is to the local magic scene. Within the flawlessly decorated interior, walls dripping with prints from the golden age of magic and hidden doorways at every turn, any performer is perfectly set up to shine. That being said, the brilliantly constructed beauty of the venue still would not be able to carry the show. For that, the magician still needs their own supply of skill and charm. Luckily for Trent James, he is well situated with both.

If you are the type to google your entertainers before you see a show, which increasingly we all are, you would note that James bills himself as a comedy magician. This may skew expectations, as Pure Lies is not what one would predict from such a claim. Comedy magic almost exclusively uses the trick as a tool to deliver the punch line, whereas James’ show is a far closer fit to a traditional magic show. Cheeky, self-depreciating humor sparkles under every line of banter, but is never made the focus of any bit, just a supplement.

More accurately, Pure Lies is well- performed, classic magic. James pulls from the best of old magic, but wisely avoids padding with any trick that is too worn out. Instead, he makes sure the tricks he does perform are given ample attention, molded around the ideal avenues for audience interaction, and refreshed to provide a modern take.

The unpretentious air that James affects may be the most clever part of Pure Lies, shrugging into the silliness of the show while perfectly disguising the hard work that magicians have to put in to seem effortless. The technical talent displayed by James is remarkable if you know to squint for it, and the fact that you have to squint a triumph on its’ own.

Chicago Magic Lounge seldom lacks for a good show, but Trent James’ Pure Lies stands out within their program as an unmissable event.

More information on Trent James and his performance dates can be found here. 

THE OPTICAL DELUSIONS

Performing in the Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee was a homecoming show for magician Ben Seidman and juggler Marcus Monroe, who both come from and began their best friendship in the area. And truly they received a fitting welcome home from the crowd, who filled up the entire hall and seemed to feature a lot of family and friends of the two performers. But although they had the overwhelming support of their community, they far from need it to make The Optical Delusions a success. This show positively vibrates with infectious enthusiasm- for the skillful juggling and tricky magic demonstrated, and for the best friendship of Seidman and Monroe.

The Optical Delusions experienced by the crowd in Milwaukee must have been a unique experience from the rest of the tour, because it was absolutely teeming with Milwaukee and general Midwestern humor. Seidman and Monroe were overtly delighted to be among the only people who could appreciate this content, and so even seen through the eyes of a transplant to the area, every joke hit purely on the strength of their energy.

It’s impressive that two men the same age from the same area have both done so well in the variety performance world, although in different subsets of it. Magic and juggling make sense together if you squint and don’t think too hard about it, and it helps that so many performers who do one have also tried their hand at the other. But they really do require different talents even beyond just doing them – how to present the skills, how to interact with the audience while they do, and so on. And what is startling is how very, and equally, good Seidman and Monroe are in their respective arts.

Monroe is demonstrably aware that if you can juggle you can’t just juggle, that would get boring after a while. But juggling with a few smart jokes, a lot of endearingly dumb jokes, and a solid assist of audience involvement, turns his admirable skill into a show well worth watching. Seidman is a magician who should be paid a lot more attention to on a national or even international level. His attitude and showmanship are impeccably crafted, and he has found a way to make nearly every trick in his repertoire seem brand new and completely fresh- an almost impossible feat in such an old art.

Seidman and Monroe are at their best when they’re working together, a beautiful thing to be able to say about two ‘best friends’. It’s absolutely obvious that their partnership in this show isn’t just a gimmick; they have amazing chemistry that could only come from knowing, supporting, and building each other’s acts up for years. For the beginning, end, and flashes in between throughout The Optical Delusions, the two trade banter crackling with energy and experience, and play ‘straight man’, or the other way around, to the one who’s turn it is to do his bit. The construction of the show genuinely only falters when one is left alone on the stage. This is not to say either performer could not carry a one man show- they both could, and do outside The Optical Delusions. But the energy of this particular show changes too drastically when they aren’t both contributing, and it makes for a somewhat fractured experience. Fortunately, they’re back together in peak form by the finale, and blow any memories of lagging out of the audience’s minds. 

The Optical Delusions is a delightful show where the hilarious comedy almost distracts you from how good the magic and juggling actually are (but not quite).  And as an added bonus, it’ll make you really appreciate your best friend.

 

 

More information on Ben Seidman and Marcus Monroe and their future performance dates can be found here and here.

 

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.

 

More information on the Chicago Magic Lounge can be found here

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.

 

More information on Champions of Magic and their performance dates can be found here

AN INTERVIEW WITH HAYDINI

After Hayden Childress (aka Haydini)’s recent performance in Charlotte (review here), he gave reviewer Hannah R. the chance to chat with him a bit about his passion for magic.

Hannah: On your website it says you started performing magic when you were ten years old. What inspired you to start learning magic?

Hayden: I was always into weird things when I was younger. I can remember there was this Disney Channel Original Movie called Now You See Me, and during the commercial breaks they would teach magic tricks. I learned them and showed them to my family and friends and started from there.

Who would you say are some magicians and performers who inspire you?

I had the privilege to perform with Mack King in Las Vegas. What I really enjoy about his shows is how the magic comes from the crowd. Of course I also look up to people like David Copperfield and Penn & Teller.

We already know about your passion for magic, so what are some other hobbies you enjoy?

I really like learning languages and love music as well. I also enjoy being outdoors and hiking. I don’t own a lot and am pretty minimalistic; I like having experiences more than things.

You mentioned in your show you recently graduated from college. Do you feel you’ve been able to incorporate what you’ve learned into your performances?

Well, I went to business school so I’ve definitely been able to use what I learned in terms of marketing, merchandise, etc. As far as magic I always found data collection and its use interesting and I definitely like to see how I can apply that to magic by attempting to make correct predictions based on what I know.

You’re making quite a name for yourself in Charlotte and the audience really enjoyed your show. What do you have planned for the future?

My goals would have to be bigger shows and more cities. A lot of people who don’t live near big cities don’t have access to magic and I’d love to be able to take my show to places like that and give them a show they wouldn’t have otherwise.

 

If you’d like to see Haydini or learn more about him, visit his website

HAYDINI

☆☆☆☆

You can often conjecture how well a magic show will play out just by taking a glance around the theatre. As I scanned the room for the best available seats, I couldn’t help but notice the demographics of the crowd; while there was a wide array of ages in attendance, there was definitely a large amount of children. While this isn’t necessarily a negative fact, I was initially concerned that either the magic would be catered to those who are younger or the act would struggle with child volunteers. I am pleased to say that I was proven wrong.

Our evening began with an introduction from the show’s “sponsor”, a Mr. N. S. A. touting the omnipresence of suggestive advertising and personal data collection. This small dip into suggestibility would be a common theme running through the evening. Haydini then presented us with the set up for an excellent reveal at the end of the show. Following this he quickly delved into a myriad of entertaining and well-executed sets, varying from sleight-of-hand to feats of mentalism. Each reveal earned him well deserved applause, impressing even the most discerning of audience members.

Haydini certainly excelled in incorporating the audience into his acts. He allowed individuals to choose whether they would like to participate, as opposed to selecting members who may be uncomfortable in the spotlight. Our magician worked well with each volunteer regardless of their age, which I’m sure you can guess is no easy task. His skill in improvisation allowed for him to adapt and make a situation comic that may have become awkward in the hands of a less skilled performer.

His improv skills certainly came of use during the show, as there were many times his technician was having issues with sound and light cues, which probably could have been fixed with a bit more rehearsing. While it did detract from the show a bit, Haydini managed each blip professionally and didn’t let the technical difficulties steal the show.

Ultimately, Haydini provides a fun, entertaining show that holds your attention throughout the entire evening. I would recommend his show to family and friends of all ages. The variety of his performance and the skill to which it was executed was captivating and attested to his prowess as a magician and performer. As he so aptly stated, “Anybody can cut you in half, but only a magician can put you back together.”

 

More information on Haydini and his performance dates can be found here

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.