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Here’s a trick I’d like to see some world-class magician perform: Make the Marriott Marquis Theater, the monolithic hotel that houses it and the monstrous video screen that now wraps around its facade — turning an ugly building even uglier — disappear. And then keep waving that wand and bring back the five Broadway theaters that were demolished when this Times Square eyesore was built.
Should this feat take place imminently, gone, too, would be “The Illusionists,” an overproduced and overblown magic show featuring seven talented tricksters drowning in a sea of cheese.
The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible
Adam TrentSnapshot: Adam Trent, Magician, Makes Broadway DebutNOV. 27, 2014
Magic acts, it seems to me, are best served like a nice dry martini, straight up. (As was the case with the charming, frill-free show “Nothing to Hide,” which played Off Broadway last December.) That’s not the theory behind this bombast-riddled production directed and choreographed by Neil Dorward, which opened Thursday night. It seems to have been designed along the lines of television contest shows like “The Voice” and “America’s Got Talent,” with all sorts of trumped-up glitz attempting to feed the excitement. We get continuous blasts of thunderous, supposedly suspense-enhancing music played onstage by a band. In addition to the magicians themselves, a chorus of assistants slinks around in gothic attire attempting to look sexy, or menacing, or something. There are laser beams, digital video screens and more.
Also impressive are the more elaborate feats of Kevin James (the Inventor), a burly and genial-seeming fellow with the mien of a mad scientist. How he cut that fellow in half, wheeling just a torso around on a metal trolley, will forever remain a mystery to me. He also appears to turn a doll into a living little person. (I had to wonder: Would a full-size person be impossible?) But his most simple trick, involving making a bit of paper appear to flutter and fly, is just as entertaining.
Audience volunteers are heavily featured in “The Illusionists.” The Belgian-born Aaron Crow, a.k.a. the Warrior (something to do with his vaguely martial garb?), performs a William Tell bit in which he shoots an arrow through an apple perched atop a woman’s head. Here, as elsewhere, the elaborateness of the trappings surrounding the trick somewhat robs it of its supposed astonishingness.