There are two irrefutable facts about magic shows: 1) They are cheesy; 2) when they are good, they are a whole helluva lot of fun. The Illusionists is a whole helluva lot of fun.
In some ways, magic has been ruined for me by Gob Bulth from Arrested Development, who never failed to walk into a room without doing jazz hands to a prerecorded fanfare and dropping a playing card. There are a lot of jazz hands, a lot of silk shirts and moving fingers in The Illusionists. There are even two jokes about Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s the cheesy part. But it’s also an element of its charm. Magic is as much about showmanship as mystery, as much about a good time as misdirection. Seven magicians, all with different skills sets, populate the cast, each bringing a different energy to the show. The Trickster, a Liberace-esque comedic-magician, has a gay ol’ time playing with sexuality as much as a deck of cards. The Escapologist, a half-naked Italian, does an actual bit of legerdemain underwater when, over the course of three minutes — and right before our eyes — he extricates himself from a tank while shackled. The Anti-Conjuror, a wraith-like steampunk dude covered in tattoos — he looks as if Iggy Pop and Lance Burton had a love child — performs some uncomfortable bits of physical magic, such as putting a piece of dental floss under his skin and popping things out of his body.
It’s a great hodgepodge of styles and techniques, from simple coin tricks to elaborate mechanical illusions, and some work better than others. But the trick to enjoying The Illusionists as much as I did is simply to let yourself go. Allow the indescribable sleight-of-hand of The Manipulator to take you back to a time when magic was real and everything was possible. It’s like being a kid again.
At Fair Park Music Hall through April 17.