I have a friend who says that as a kid, he had trouble understanding the expression “suspension of disbelief,” because he had no disbelief to suspend: Jurassic Park made as much sense to him as Clarissa Explains It All. This is the ideal state for a viewer of The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible, an endlessly silly but endlessly pleasurable magic show that features, before any real tricks are performed, an opening dance number and a reality TV-style intro video which gives us the nicknames or specialties of each member of the group, all set to music right out of the trailer for a fantasy epic: there is the Anti-Conjurer (Dan Sperry), the Warrior (Aaron Crow), the Futurist (Adam Trent), the Inventor (Kevin James), the Trickster (Jeff Hobson), the Escapologist (Andrew Basso), and the Manipulator (Yu Ho-Jin). Those attempting to debunk the magic will be disappointed, because despite the cheesy personas these are very accomplished magicians, and those who come in to make cynical comparisons between Vegas and Broadway will be missing the point. Though I hesitate to idealize childhood, which is never as idyllic as we like to pretend, the Illusionists nevertheless manage to evoke that sense of giddiness, awe, and belief in magic that we project onto our younger years.
Witness the Impossible is introduced by Adam Trent, the most accessible and traditionally charming member of the Illusionsts. His best magic employs technology (thus the moniker), as when a wand projected digitally behind him appears in his hand. Jeff Hobson combines card tricks with a nance act, telling vaudeville jokes that in this context are actually quite funny. “Whatever you don’t laugh at,” he says early on, “that’s the magic.” Aaron Crow, who looks like he could be the bassist in a Dethklok cover band, is a silent Belgian who pierces the center of an apple with a wedding ring inside, while Andrew Basso outdoes Houdini by using a bobby pin to get himself out of a series of locks and chains while hanging upside down in an underwater tank in full view of the audience. Yu Ho-Jin, apparently the most credentialed Illusionist, a “magician’s magician,” performs variations on classic tricks that are impressive in their sustained effortlessness. My favorite, Kevin James, sports steampunk glasses while creating a snowstorm out of a piece of paper, cutting his assistant in half, and watching as the legs walk offstage and the head looks around in confusion. Finally, there is Dan Sperry, whose mostly astonishing tricks are ruined by a transphobic comment he makes at the beginning of a Russian Roulette routine. When asking a woman to come help him onstage, he informs us that men who “think” they are women don’t count—and his misanthropic, frankly annoying mall Goth personality is no excuse for this hideous denial of personhood.
I do suspect, however, that the denial is unintended and comes from ignorance rather than conscious hatred, which prevents it from significantly marring the otherwise uninterrupted and undiluted fun of Witness the Impossible. This first-rate production never lags in its dedication to entertainment (there is music during intermission lest we be bored for even a second) and makes me wonder if Broadway could use one or two fewer musicals and one or two more shows like this.