The Illusionists: Spellbound on Broadway

The Illusionists—Live on Broadway. Typically, Broadway holiday offerings are stage versions of film classics, but for the second year running, the family entertainment gods have gifted us with something more abracadabra than ho-ho-ho. Seven renowned “Avengers of Magic” combine on an all-generational show, whose entertainment mission is to knock your socks into the stratosphere with some mind-blowing visual subterfuge.

Consider the performers’ monikers: “The Manipulator” (Yu Ho-Jin), “The Anti-Conjuror” (Dan Sperry), “The Trickster” (Jeff Hobson), “The Daredevil” (Jonathan Goodwin), “The Deceptionist” (James More), “The Unusualist” (Raymond Crowe), and “The Futurist” (Adam Trent). It’s pretty obvious that these guys are out to torpedo the stereotypes of Magic Show 101. Or, as “The Futurist” Trent writes on his website, “What comes to mind when you think of a 'Magician'? Is it a guy who makes awkward dance movements and tells stale jokes while torturing women in wooden boxes?” (His answer: create an act “...fusing classic techniques, dancing, comedy, and technology.”) Mr. Goodwin, on the other hand, seduces audiences with awesome fearlessness. His “Daredevil” title aptly describes the man behind the hodgepodge of cool career stunts like hanging from helicopters (by his toes, no less), being sewn into the carcass of a deceased cow, and serving himself up as kibble to a bunch of hungry sharks.

And then there’s “Anti-Conjurer” Sperry working a Goth-infused persona born from a divinely macabre headspace. His fanbase—devoted and viral—was initially hooked thanks to his “Rock Star of Magic” reputation. Sperry’s audience continues to grow not only from his stage performances, but also from TV appearances zeroing in on his uncanny synthesis of illusion and humor.

Photo: Simon Painter

As in all incarnations of The Illusionists, the current version bursts onto New York’s seasonal scene under the eye of creative producer Simon Painter, whose first producing project, Le Grand Cirque, broke box office records in Sydney. No doubt that adrenaline rush had something to do with his teaming up with his good friend, Aussie producer Tim Lawson, to lay the groundwork for The Illusionists.

“We wanted to do what Cirque [du Soleil] does, only with magic, to take incredible acts, the best of the best from each genre of magic, and add in rock bands and cutting-edge technology,” says Painter.

“And it was important to me to keep the acts short—four or five minute segments—sometimes solo, sometimes together, with everything interweaving,” he continues. “I wanted it to be a performance where you never look at your watch.”

Putting together the Broadway show is, like all Illusionists incarnations, a bit of a juggling act. After all, the performers each have careers and bookings to adhere to. As a result, the 2015 program has a handful of different performers: a definite plus for fans who saw the show last year and are looking for an excuse to revisit the pedal-to-the-metal hit.

“The #1 reason people enjoy the show is the humor. Yes, it’s massively extravagant and large scale with rock bands and technology, but it’s also very funny,” concludes Painter. “Kids, of course, also love stuff like the explosions and excitement, ‘the bang factor.’ I get the feeling that for kids it’s like looking at gigantic cartoon.”

The Illusionists—Live on Broadway is now open at the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St., running through January 3, 2106. For reservations call 877-250-2929 or visit

About the Author

City Guide Theatre Editor Griffin Miller moved to New York to pursue an acting/writing career in the 1980s after graduating magna cum laude from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Since then, she has written for The New York Times, For the Bride, Hotels, and a number of other publications, mostly in the areas of travel and performance arts. An active member of The New York Travel Writers Association, she is also a playwright and award-winning collage artist. In addition, she sits on the board of The Lewis Carroll Society of North America. Griffin is married to Richard Sandomir, a reporter for The New York Times.

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