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You'll Be Obsessed With Derren Brown After Seeing His Broadway Secret

This famed UK mentalist comes to the Cort Theatre after a sold-out New York run in 2017.

Derren Brown: Secret runs through January 4, 2020, at the Cort Theatre.
(© Matthew Murphy)

I'm obsessed with Derren Brown. When you see Secret on Broadway at the Cort Theatre, you will be, too.

Brown is perhaps the most famous mentalist in the United Kingdom. Over the course of his career, he has toured eight different sell-out shows, earned two Oliviers and a Drama Desk, survived a round of Russian roulette, hypno-programmed a man to assassinate Stephen Fry, and coaxed multiple people into pushing someone off a roof.

My first encounter with Brown's work was Secret, which premiered at the Atlantic Theater Company in 2017, and it blew my mind. This show is not what you're expecting — there are no razor blades to swallow or rabbits to pull out of hats. The segments of the production (written by Brown, Andy Nyman, and Andrew O'Connor, the latter two who also direct) are an amalgam of Brown's greatest hits (perfect for his first American show), but to discuss them in detail (or to discuss them in general) would ignore a plea from the performer to not give anything away. I didn't before, and I won't now.

Derren Brown in Derren Brown: Secret
(© Matthew Murphy)

What I worried about upon this second viewing of Secret was its rewatch value. Like most reasonably intelligent people, I can see through things. Would the different acts register with the same level of enjoyment after I'd spent two years trying to figure them out? Ultimately, yes, they did. I felt like a kid in a candy store as I watched Secret on Broadway, all two-and-a-half hours of it (which might sound excessively long for most magic shows, but not this one). It helps that Brown is such a sly performer, and that there was a really willing crowd the night I saw it.

Watching this audience of neophytes experience Derren Brown's work for the first time was what really heightened my second encounter with Secret. Seeing 1,000 people shift uncomfortably in their seats, hearing sharp intakes of breath and shouts of "No!" when Brown made a reveal, was as infinitely enjoyable as his thrilling and mystifying creations. And even when I thought I had understood it all, just like last time, I remembered another aspect of a trick that left me baffled in the best possible way.

Like all great illusionists, Brown is funny and charming, and he talks with enough assurance to make us believe every word he says. But his work here is based on the power of the "perfectly placed lie." He never claims to have magical powers or psychic abilities; he insists that he doesn't use audience plants. His accomplishments are achieved through powers of suggestion, physical tells, misdirection, body language, subliminal messaging, and old-fashioned showmanship.

Even knowing that, you'll still feel tempted to Google how it's done, but it's best to resist the urge. A much more satisfying continuation to this great evening of psychological magic is to talk it out and draw your own conclusions. After all, why would anyone want to ruin a Secret that provides this much pleasure?

Derren Brown with an audience member in Derren Brown: Secret
(© Matthew Murphy)
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