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The Illusionists — Witness the Impossible

Seven of the world's greatest magicians are spending the holiday season on Broadway.

Italian-born escapologist Andrew Basso performs Houdini's Water Torture Cell as part of The Illusionists — Witness the Impossible at the Marquis Theatre.
(© David Gordon)

It's safe to say that Broadway isn't what it used to be. Truly original musicals are harder to come by since the advent of the jukebox formula. Revivals of time-tested classics have virtually replaced daring new plays. No, the Broadway of yesteryear is nothing like the Broadway of today. Which is why The Illusionists — Witness the Impossible, now at the Marquis Theatre for a holiday season run, is so fascinating.

The Illusionists, you see, is a throwback to the bygone days of vaudeville, the dominant form of theatrical entertainment at the turn of the last century. Instead of jugglers, tap dancers, singers, and ventriloquists, here we have seven of the contemporary era's best, well, illusionists. When they say these guys are the best in their very specific fields, they truly are, combining an extraordinary amount of showmanship with actual expertise to create thoroughly enjoyable results.

Take Andrew Basso, an Italian-born escapologist. Basso risks his life nightly to perform the Houdini-created Water Torture Cell. He is handcuffed and manacled, placed inside what's essentially a padlocked fish tank, and must unlock himself and escape while holding his breath. Of course, despite the ominous music (performed live on stage by a band called Z), Basso performs the trick with the greatest of ease. It's a scary-intense thing to watch, especially for the claustrophobics among us. The sweat drips down our backs, though he emerges without a single bead of perspiration anywhere on his body.

Fortunately, the evening, directed by Neil Dorward, isn't a game of '"Can You Top This?" Each performer gets a chance to present their best material. "Anti-Conjuror" Dan Sperry, a Marilyn Manson-looking guy, has great fun at the expense of a petrified audience member as they play a game of Russian Roulette with a broken glass bottle (later, he does an eye-popping trick with a series of doves). Belgian-born Aaron Crow shoots an apple containing a woman's wedding ring off her head, William Tell-style.

Yu Ho-Jin dazzles with a series of card manipulation tricks that redefine "now you see it, now you don't." Kevin James (not to be confused with the television and film star) charms a young lady by making a rose appear out of a napkin. Futurist Adam Trent's act shows off the latest in LED technology. Keeping order is Jeff Hobson, a flamboyant emcee in Liberace mold whose act is so hilarious that it'll leave your stomach hurting from laughter.

Perfectly paced in a two-act format, this highly entertaining endeavor has not a single dull moment, a rarity in a show of this nature. Visually, the steampunk production is just as exciting as the tricks. The Illusionists — Witness the Impossible is an awe-inspiring experience from start to finish. Even the cynics among us will likely wonder how the tricks were done. And if anyone tries to tell you that vaudeville is dead, tell them to think again.

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