In Review

The Illusionists

4 out of 5 stars
4 out of 5 stars - 'Smashing'
SHN Orpheum, San Francisco
Review by

Recently, I concluded it makes little sense to review a touring show more than once. Unless you’re a big fan, the second time round doesn’t usually add much. For example, while I like the Blue Man Group, there’s only so much that you can do with being a blue man. If you’re not coming at it from the position of a die hard fan, repeat performances don’t usually add much – or so I thought.

An opportunity to test that hypothesis arose soon enough. What could be a better test than a repeat viewing of The Illusionists? After all, my review of their San Jose performance, just eight months ago, even ended with the line “I suspect this touring show won’t hold up to repeated visits.”

Hah! Boy was I wrong. A few nits, such a projecting screen not descending properly and drapery issues, that occurred in the first minutes of the show aside, the SF performance was much, much better.

Dan Sperry - The Conjuror
Dan Sperry – The Conjuror
The Illusionists - Review San Francisco Orpheum
Andrew Basso – The Escapologist

The Illusionists remains a high volume, pulsating steam-punk mix of comedy and music. That much remains unchanged.

And yes, the Anti-Conjuror, Dan Sperry, is still making white doves reproduce faster than rabbits breed, Andrew Basso’s still breaking out of a suspended straightjacket, and Kevin James still noodles around as the Inventor.

However, new tricks filled  gaps created by the absence of Yu Ho-Jin, whose elegantly quiet card tricks completely wowed me last time, and the removal of several key acts, including the escape-from-the-water-tank trick. I was also more conscious of other elements, like the female dancers, who worked seamlessly, and the music. In essence, the show seemed a richer experience, and was stronger for it.

Whatever magic happens between performers and their audience was more clearly on display at the Orpheum last night.

The nonstop banter of Jeff Hobson, aka The Trickster even wore well over time. While he remained several  sequins short of Liberace, I appreciated the flexibility of his act, adapting easily and rolling with whatever the volunteers came up with.

The Illusionists - Review San Francisco Orpheum
Kevin James – The Inventor
The Illusionists - Review San Francisco Orpheum
Yu Ho-Jin – The Manipulator
The Illusionists - Review San Francisco Orpheum
The Illusionists (L to R): Aaron Crow, Dan Sperry, Jeff Hobson, Kevin James, Andrew Basso, Adam Trent, and Yu Ho-Jin

Other factors might also be at play. San Francisco audiences are different from San Jose audiences. The Orpheum has a history of big lunacy, undoubtedly bearing psychedelic traces that permanently altered the chemistry of the ceiling ornaments so that that The Illusionists fit right, in ways that just don’t work with with a San Jose venue. Then too, Trickster Hobson’s riff of coming on to his male volunteers just plays better in SF. All these factors, taken together, put whatever magic happens between performers and their audience more clearly on display at the Orpheum last night.

The Illusionists are at the Orpheum between February 16th through the 21st.

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Cy Ashley Webb
Cy spent the ‘80’s as a bench scientist, the tech boom doing intellectual property law, and the first decade of the millennium, aspiring to be the world’s oldest grad student at Stanford where she is interested in political martyrdom. Presently, she enjoys writing for Stark Insider and the SF Examiner, hanging out at Palo Alto Children's Theatre, and participating in various political activities. Democracy is not a spectator sport! Cy is a SFBATCC member.