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  • Writer's pictureKimberly Laberge

Astounded! Amazed! Afraid? The Illusionists at the Overture Center

When an escape artist has to say a prayer before getting locked into a Houdini-style restraining apparatus, theatergoers know The Illusionists is the real deal. When a sleight-of-hand magician brings a shotgun and a bloody rag onstage, theatergoers regret bringing their families.

The Illusionists, hitting Madison this week, is marketed as a series of “stunning acts of grand illusion, levitation, mind-reading, disappearance and, for the first time ever in history, a full view water torture escape”. This rotating cast does bring the aforementioned spectacle. However, inviting Dan Sperry as The Anti-Conjuror and his shock-centric illusions is a complete and utter disregard of the audience, comprised of children as young as six.

Dan Sperry fills his stage time with tasteless humor, Family Guy quotes, and unnecessary gore. The Anti-Conjuror’s stage personality offers little captivation, and the like could be found in the back room of a middle school. What most disappoints is the clear talent Sperry showcases in his sleight-of-hand piece. Sperry’s gift has the potential to belong in The Illusionists, but his deliberate choices in his performance are not suited for this family friendly venue.

The mood set by the other performers is electrifying and inviting. The Trickster, Jeff Hobson, opens the night with laughter and classic card tricks, masterfully priming the audience for the joy to come. Kevin James as The Inventor brings an act reminiscent of classic Copperfield magic, with a flair of modern innovation. The integration of dancing with hints of Cabaret and hip-hop, borne of director/choreographer Neil Dorward’s genius, makes this act one for all ages.

Photo: The Illusionists , 2015

Escapologist Andrew Basso has all witnesses holding their breaths in anticipation as he spends several minutes, entirely immersed in water, upside down, and chained. His humor is appreciated, but forgotten when he defies death as the great Harry Houdini had.

Colin Cloud steals the show with his ability to draw accurate conclusions out of thin air. The Deductionist is not misnomered as a real-life Sherlock Holmes. His background in forensic investigation equips him to astound even the greatest skeptic. Through intermission, despite numerous other displays of the impossible, the house continues to buzz, trying to make sense of the deductive savant that is Cloud.

The Illusionists may be enjoyable for some, but it is hard to look past Dan Sperry’s ill-fitting performance, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of misinformed Madison families.

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