Queer icons have helped campy magician Jeff Hobson find his onstage persona
When he steps onstage, magic isn’t enough for Jeff Hobson. As the emcee for the popular The Illusionists Live From Broadway show — as well as his solo performances — he looked to campy icons for inspiration. Now, he wears rhinestones like a suit of armor. Hobson’s bedazzled jackets and sparkling custom-made shoes match his flamboyant delivery as The Trickster in the show that opens Tuesday at Music Hall as part of the Dallas Summer Musicals season.
Camp? Certainly, but Hobson wouldn’t say his Trickster character is gay.
“I guess he’s more of a metrosexual so he has some kind of appeal for everyone. You have to have the thing that makes you stand out,” he says. “Elvis had his hip move. Mine is 10,000 rhinestones — combined with magic.”
Described as the Avengers of magic shows, The Illusionists consist of an all-star cast of magicians with colorful (or creepy?) names like Anti-Conjuror, Weapon Master and Daredevil.
So how does a mere trickster stand out?
“I still remember the days of Liberace and Rip Taylor. I’m no youngster,” Hobson laughs. “So I wanted that flamboyance.”
Videos of him on YouTube can be found pulling men onstage to help him with a trick. He flirts relentlessly. The men don’t seem to mind his double entendres, which may be another magic trick (he’s not telling). But children and women in the audience eat it up.
Hobson’s shtick has included elevated card tricks, lit matches from his crotch, wristwatch swiping and his “disappearing egg sack.” Perhaps his most dramatic is his fire eating, a talent he’s performed for most of his career.
“Of course I’m flaming every night,” he quips.
As a child growing up in Detroit, magic was Hobson’s main outlet. He describes himself as sheltered, but the excitement that came with magic was his bridge to others. That has stayed with him through today.
“It was my way of making other people happy and making friends, to create wonders, ” he says. “It was a cool thing to do. I still have those feelings, which is probably why I’m the one in the troupe who is the most interactive [with the audience].”
Although he doesn’t mention his own orientation, Hobson understands he can be toeing the line on his performance. He also works to be careful about it.
“All the jokes are on me. I’m not trying to do anything at anyone else’s expense whether it’s the audience or a community,” Hobson says.
And coming to Texas, he knows some stops may need to digest him a little slower than other stops.
“There are more conservative places and sometimes I do temper my performance. Sometimes I have to start off a little bit less me and build it up. But then they come around. An audience like Dallas though, gets me,” he says.
And despite the rhinestones and swishy act, it’s just about the magic.
“It full of amazing and shocking magic that’s awe-inspiring and beautiful,” Hobson says. “So in short, it’s fabulous … like me.”
— Rich Lopez
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 24, 2017.