magic

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.

 

CHAMPIONS OF MAGIC

☆☆☆☆

Champions of Magic is the summer blockbuster of magic shows, or at least aims to be- it is the Avengers of magicians. It is not your average, every day magic show (if there is such a thing), where you have to commit yourself to embracing one style, one skillset of magic. Instead, you are given four different magic shows in one, meshed together in an unforgettable night of wonderment.

The first of the magicians to kick off the show was a young magician with an old-school style, Edward Hilsum, conjuring doves with impressive flair. The magicians cycled their acts through the night, so we saw him again a few times over the course of the show, but one of the particularly impressive aspects of two of Hilsum’s three sets was his ability to remain captivating with a wordless act. In fact, his talent at maintaining attention meant that I did not even realize he hadn’t said a word until several minutes into the show!

Following Hilsum’s fist set was that of Alex McAleer, the mind-reader. I’ve reviewed McAleer here before, from his Edinburgh Fringe show. Here he had a much larger stage, and one he managed dominate impressively. Mind reading more than any other form of magic relies on audience participation and response, and McAleer undeniably had the personability and flair to make the crowd comfortable and increasingly eager to interact. Over his sets he wowed the audience with his skill at seemingly picking thoughts and images straight out of their minds, knowing everything from a card they were thinking of to unexpected personal details.

Fay Presto took the stage next, taking what initially seemed like it would be the most standard magic staple into a completely different, funny direction. Doing classic magic tricks can verge into boring the audience, I have learned, but she turned this potential around into something unexpected, a delightful turn of magic refusing to take itself too seriously. Presto particularly excelled when including children in her acts, her encouragement making them visibly increasingly confident with being onstage and involved.

The final part of this show was done by the magician duo Young & Strange. Their act coming last was a commendable choice, as they provided a burst of silly, snarky energy. While bordering on ridiculousness, the dedication of the two in playing off each other absolutely worked. Young & Strange were the epitome of a big finish, pulling out all the stops with huge intimidating mechanics, bright lights, a sweet story, and a glamorous assistant.

Champions of Magic truly was a great show of astonishing talent. If any criticism can be found, it is not in their abilities, but in the cohesion of the overall show. The range of different specialties was a positive, however, the acts suffered in that it seemed not much effort had been put into segues. It made the show more fragmented that it needed to be, and displaced the audience’s energy. There was so much good to outweigh this problem, however, and Champions of Magic was a astounding, delightful show, all the magicians astonishing the audience in their own unique ways.

Champions of Magic will be continuing their tour with shows through the UK, venues and dates can be found here.

TODD VARIOUS

If you startle easy (as I do) the crack of a whip on a crowded street can be a terrifying sound. However, in the case I am describing, it indicated something awesome was to come.

Street performance is really cool inherently, and to do successfully requires crazy impressive showmanship skills.  If someone comes to a stage show, they’ve already spent their money on a ticket, and are thus likely to stick it through regardless. But street performers have to make the audience committed. Todd Various was one of the best street performers I have seen in this regard. Mr Various, with his cowboy persona and vicious looking whips was genuinely funny in a relaxed way that kept the crowd both entertained and at ease throughout the show.

The insane thing is, Mr Various doesn’t do a massive amount of tricks in that time. He actually only does a couple. But due to his entertaining chatter and undeniably likable personality, it seems like a lot more happens.

The tricks that are performed are pretty impressive to see, but the truly great quality was his talent as an entertainer. Mr Various could make jokes at peoples’ expense without being nasty about it, convince dubious tourists to play along with his show, and keep an audience enthralled on a chilly day in Edinburgh for nearly an hour- all without guarantee that they will give him money for his performance. But they damn well should (and I was happy to see did) because this funny, startling, captivating show was absolutely fantastic.

If this was a stage show I would say here where it is playing and at what time but ??? uh Royal Mile, Edinburgh, in the afternoon? Look for the guy wearing a cowboy hat and just stick around until he does something interesting?

+ I realize at no point in this review did I explain the purpose of the whip I mentioned in the beginning. Good. Be curious.

++ I accidentally saw this show twice (there is v little to do on Sundays in Edinburgh. I am not actually a stalker) so this review basically covers both performances at the same time.

NEIL HENRY’S IMPOSSIBLE

☆☆☆

Note to all magicians: if you do a joke trick with a fake bunny at the beginning of your set, don’t leave it on stage. People will be distracted the entire time wondering if that bunny is going to become switched for a real one. Gotta say I’m a little disappointed.

Bunnies aside, Neil Henry presented an excellent show. 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. Even when presented with the challenge of easily confused audience participants, Mr Henry maintained his funny patter and kept his crowd laughing.

A particularly great moment of the show was the finale, at which point Mr Henry created legitimate concern and tension with his crowning act. Even though audiences who come to magic shows generally know that the magician has their show under control and probably won’t be harmed, Mr Henry’s last trick had people looking away and wincing- but definitely peeking through their hands.

This skillful control of the atmosphere showed the masterful showmanship Mr Henry had created even with his somewhat goofy persona, and certainty had audience members hissing ‘impossible’ afterwards as they squinted and poked at the cards onstage.

Neil Henry’s Impossible is on at Pleasance Courtyard at 3:50pm until August 25th.

RENZ NOVANI: SPELLBINDER- MAGIC AND MYSTORY

☆☆☆☆

I’m not a mentalist (yet?) When I sat down at the beginning of Renz Novani’s show, I made a prediction. That prediction was that for his review I would be writing on this blog: “well, maybe Renz Novani is a good magician, but I can’t tell because I can’t see a goddamned thing except for the hair of the lady in front of me.” But like I said, I’m not a mentalist.

The room was tiny. Everyone was squashed together, and the rows of seats were only at two levels. The “stage” started right where the “audience” stopped, and it was tiny itself. But what could have been suffocating actually worked for the show.

Mr Novani’s affect was flawless for the space, and for his material. He didn’t try to be overtly theatrical, a choice that by making him seem bigger would have made the space feel even smaller. Instead, his show was like a conversation. We were visitors at Mr Novani’s, and he a kind host. And like any good host, he exuded sincerity, and seemed to connect deeply with his audience.

I’ve mentioned earlier on this blog that I as a rule don’t go onstage or interact in the acts I see. Well, I broke that rule last night. I didn’t plan on it, but the room was so small, I couldn’t exactly hide. And when I was picked, I just went with it. I was initially worried that my preexisting obsession with mentalism and fascination with the exact things he was doing would mess the show up because I was thinking so much, so I guess it’s a blessing that when I’m in front of crowds I lose the ability to think. I won’t go into too much detail about the trick itself, but all I can say is that I was amazed by his talent. At so many points I was tiny slivers of a whim away from making wholly different choices, and yet the trick worked- the prediction that Mr Novani had secured, earlier, with another audience member, was right. Because of choices that I made and numbers that the audience picked.This ability wasn’t limited to but one trick, either. He again and again left members of the audience dumbfounded with his mentalist ability and readings of their deepest wishes.

He genuinely had astonishing talent, and at the same time expertly presented his material in a manner that made a grim little room cozy and captivating. Combined with a brilliant finish, Mr Novani’s show really does leave you feeling weightless.

Renz Novani’s Fringe show is at Spotlights at Merchants Hall, at 8:40 pm until August 25th.

+Extra note: I left this show a little stunned, and not just because of residual nervous energy from being onstage. Of all the magicians that I’ve seen as of late, his particular talents were exactly everything I’ve ever wanted to study, understand, be. The beautiful mixture of clever tricks, calming but firm stage presence, and a deep understanding of and ability to work with human psychology is exactly what captivated me about this world in the first place. His ability to imbibe it with a sense of enchantment struck me on a deeply personal level. Also, I want to steal all his books. (No but seriously. In the off chance you ever see this blog, Mr Novani, can you comment on here the title of the mentalism book that was on your table?)

BEN HART: THE VANISHING BOY

☆☆☆☆☆

It was magic like poetry. Not the script necessarily, not specifically, but how the storytelling interwove with the tricks. A “plot”, for lack of a better word, is always good in a magic show, but this was beautiful. Mr Hart did magic tricks, of course, but he didn’t make it a magic show in the sense you would expect. It was theatre, not theatricality. He turned tricks into something you can actually, temporarily let yourself believe is truly supernatural, and it was spellbinding.

The tale we were to follow is a mystery, harkening back to olden times, to days of magic past. A juxtaposition of his modern self and something form the depths of the century. Despite his young age, Mr Hart radiated a kind of wisdom when he settled into his storytelling reverie, lulling the audience into willingly suspending their disbelief, letting them hear the drip of phantom rain and the bewilderment of an unexpected, strange visitor at your door.

But it’s the 21st fucking century, folks. We’ve seen magic tricks, we know them well. We squint for hidden wires and when a twenty-something (I’m assuming?) beguiles us with dark tales, a little bit of our minds will stay modern despite, modern and skeptical. And he knows that. So when it’s been going a little too long, maybe, when you can’t stay under the comfortable romantic lull for much longer, he whips the act back, to silly, borderline risque (but covertly enough that he needn’t worry about kids in the audience) jokes, and to unexpectedly funny tricks.

And his tricks are beautiful as well. Falling naturally and elegantly within the narrative, he does confounding magic. At one point, he took a magic standard that I’ve seen countless times before, and changes it, in such a way that it invalidated everything I know about how the original is done in the first place.

But the truth of Ben Hart’s show is not the trickery, but the presentation. It is acts like this that make you remember why magic is so powerful in the first place. If you go to a lot of different magic acts- as one can easily do, as I am, here at the Edinburgh Fringe- you might forget that sense of awe in the attempt to deconstruct, to figure it all out. But it’s so important not to. Of course that desire will still stay, of course as you walk out and shake Mr Hart’s hand (can I just say I love performers who stick around to greet their audience after) and tell him how magnificent he was and wander off, your mind will be twisting and mulling and trying to work it out. But at the same time, and more importantly, you will be brilliantly and blissfully astounded and bewitched.

Ben Hart is performing at Underbelly Cowgate at 4:40pm until August 24th. Seriously, go see him.

+Extra point: It is about 40 minutes since I got out of the show. I literally had to write this all immediately, because the experience was so fantastic. Thank you for the ‘bloody’ tissue by the way, Mr Hart.

ALAN HUDSON: TRICK TEASER

☆☆☆

‘No secrets’ could be the tagline for this show. Considering the ‘mystery’ appeal that most magicians will make their living on, this is a bit out of the ordinary. Alan Hudson’s show is pure silly, happy, humble magic, and he doesn’t pretend to be anything more than exactly what he is.

And what he is is spelled out right on his flyer: a comic with a feel-good magic show. But it works because he does it well. He’s working in a small venue here at the Fringe, where he stands at the same level as the audience, only a few feet from them. No room for frills or secrets, it’s just you and the magician- and Mr Hudson is a funny, friendly guy. He manages to make his audience like him nearly immediately, with jokes that hint of self deprecation, stupid dancing, and purposefully see-through magic.

This is all particularly notable on the night when I went. Mr Hudson messed up a trick in a way he couldn’t salvage in the moment. But perhaps with the exception of the woman whose wedding ring was now missing, he still had the audience on his side. The attitude was of willingness to gloss past the problem, not to blame him for fucking it up.

Perhaps not the guy to see if you want to be utterly astounded, but if you want to see some cool tricks and genuinely laugh for nearly an hour straight, Alan Hudson is the right choice.

Alan Hudson’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe show is on at Gilded Balloon at 19:45 until August 25th (not on the 13th).