At one point during The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible, one of the titular performers asked an audience member if he had ever wanted to be a magician. “Yes,” the man answered, and when asked why he never pursued this, he explained, “Well, I was 8.” The implications were obvious — being a magician is not a career choice one would seriously consider after reaching double digits. And yet, as evidenced by the sold-out crowd at the Ordway, some people do grow up and become professional magicians.
It’s kind of incredible, if you think about it. Go and ask ten of your friends if they believe in magic. The kind of magic that results in bunnies being pulled out of top hats, handkerchiefs turning into birds, and ladies being sawed in half and then glued back together. I’ll bet a solid majority will say no, of course not, that’s ridiculous. It’s all smoke in mirrors. And yet people around the world have flocked to theatres, paying good money to see these seven men perform “magic” before their eyes.
Maybe people want to see proof that magic isn’t real. Or maybe they want to see proof that it is real; let themselves be convinced to believe. I suspect it’s a bit of both, mixed in with some really good marketing — seriously, the posters all around town are slick! Each of the seven performers has a unique identity complete with a title and a distinct look: the Escapologist, the Futurist, the Anti-Conjurer.. you get the picture. But the most important reason that The Illusionists is such a successful show is also the simplest: it’s a really, really impressive, entertaining show.
Complete with cutting-edge technology, pyrotechnics, live music, over-the-top costumes, and fast-moving set pieces, The Illusionists is a show that runs like a well-oiled machine. The different performers each have their own style, and each illusion has a different feel. Some are quick, some have a long build-up; some performers speak, others remain silent. Some are “traditional” (card tricks, for example), others are more innovative and include snazzy technology. There is audience participation, there is stand-up comedy, there is music. And while some illusions make you laugh in astonishment and some will have you biting your nails in anxiety, others still will leave you asking the person next to you, “WHAT JUST HAPPENED!?”
The part of me that loves small, local theatre groups with political messages and social justice-related goals kind of expected to dislike such a slick, money-making production. But truly, The Illusionists is a remarkable show that is entirely entertaining. And what really sold me on it was that each of the seven illusionists clearly loves what he does. Well, that and the magic, of course.
So, if you can get your hands on a ticket for this show, do yourself a favour and give in to the magic, and have a blast! Take the kids if you have them, but it’s really a show for all ages. Finally, a word to the wise: if you truly fear the idea of unexpected audience participation, don’t sit too close to the front.
The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible runs March 24-29, 2015 at the Ordway Music Theater, 345 Washington St, St Paul. Tickets $33-120 at http://www.ordway.org/ or by calling the box office at 651.224.4222