‘The Illusionists:’ Magic for those skeptical about magic

In the year 2015, it’s safe to say, the entertainment art form known as “magic” suffers from a less than glamorous and cool image.

Aside from Criss Angel, when I think of magicians I think sleaze and cheese.

I think of the opening sequence to the old Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons, where the moose would announce, “Hey, Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.” And invariably, the moose ineptly would pull out anything but a rabbit.

Or, I think of a scene from the movie “Desperately Seeking Susan” inside a tired old magic club in a seedy side of New York City where a lecherous and tired old magician in a faded suit and turban performed tricks poorly accompanied on stage by a nearsighted assistant with blue hair.

Magic just doesn’t seem cool any more– and Harry Houdini probably has been spinning in his grave for several decades.

However, “The Illusionists,” now playing at The Bushnell in Hartford, makes magic as cool as a rock and roll concert.

One of the reasons why “The Illusionists” pulls off the cool factor is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s clear the magicians respect and love their art form. But they’re not too full of themselves.

The stage set also helps up the ante in the cool factor. Again, it’s more rock show than vaudeville production. In the same vein, the costumes are cool as the performers dip into a variety of underground subcultures such as goth, steampunk, hipster, punk, and heavy metal rockers.

Also each of the performers brought their own unique twists (and characters) to the world of magic.

Now, I’m not going to be a spoilsport and describe the trickery on stage. Part of the joys of the magic is the unexpected. But I will offer up what you can expect in general terms from the performers in “The Illusionists.”

Andrew Basso—The Escapologist– was intense and introspective as he gathered his strength for his escape trick.

Ben Blaque– The Weapon Master– came out like a superhero, a crossbow carrying compatriot to the Green Arrow.

Jonathan Goodwin—The Daredevil– was the voice of reason, the voice of history, and the voice of doom—and the audience’s link to the past for the trickery on stage.

Jeff Hobson—The Trickster—was the show’s nod to the some of the cheesiness of magicians of the past with his sequined outfit and his bag of classic magic tricks. He also provided the most laughs of the audience as his Borscht Belt schtick kept everyone rolling in the aisles and crying from laughter.

Yu Ho-Jin – The Manipulator– was the epitome of grace and elegance—his performance the magician’s equivalent to a ballet.

Dan Sperry—dubbed The Anti Conjurer– looked like a mix between Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper. And he brought the geek (in the classic stage sense i.e., the performers who would chase chicken on stage, bite off their heads, and eat them).) aesthetic to the stage. He also provided the most cringe-worthy tricks to the evening’s proceedings. Like Hobson, he had the audience in stitches with his humor.

Kevin James offered up a friendly mix of comedy, and twists on classic magic tricks. Think Penn and Teller meets Doctor Who.

A plus for the performance was the use of video screens above the stage. That way even the people toward the back of the theater could clearly see the action.

For someone who had never been to live magic performance, I had great fun at “The Illusionists” on Wednesday. The show continues through Sunday in Hartford. And it’s definitely worth checking out.

I give “The Illusionists” four out of four stars.

Performances of “The Illusionists” continue at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford tonight, Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets start at $21. Tickets are available online at www.bushnell.org, by phone at (860)987-5900, or at The Bushnell box office

'The Illusionists" continues its run at The Bushnell through Sunday.

‘The Illusionists” continues its run at The Bushnell through Sunday.