"The Illusionists/Live from Broadway" conjured up an escape from a cold, blustery Duluth "spring" night Tuesday, warming up the DECC auditorium crowd with an entertaining mix of tricks, stunts, sleight of hand, physical feats, mind reading, a few special effects and a whole lot of comedy.
While they are not quite at the level of a David Copperfield or Penn and Teller production, this next-gen group of six magicians and performers brought their own brand of mostly quieter, less flashy prestidigitation to town, while still giving the audience plenty of moments of "How did they do that?"
"The Illusionists" features engaging performers with a kind of Avengers, super-hero vibe who keep the audience laughing and clapping throughout the two-hour show. Each performer has his or her own title, character style and unique take on the world of illusion.
The least showy of the sextet, but elegantly impressive, The Manipulator, An Ha Lim from South Korea, did card sleight of hand producing "endless" cards into his hands from seemingly thin air.
The Sorceress, Holland-born Sabine Van Diem, featured more traditional lock and escape style magic. Also more understated, Van Diem comes more to life when she is the assistant and "victim" of a few of the Daredevil's (James Goodwin) "death-defying" stunts.
Bringing the dark side to the proceedings, the British Goodwin asserts that he is not a magician and that everything he presents is based on strength and skill alone. This "Dangerman" of the group is brawny, sexy and fearless. With his buzz saw, bear traps, crossbows, straightjacket and handcuffs, Goodwin dazzled with the most visually engaging act of the night.
Master of ceremonies, Trickster (Brit Paul Dabek) is a quick-witted comic and magician who performed my favorite trick of the evening, having an audience member's signed $10 bill disappear and reappear, contained in an unpeeled banana inside a box held for safe-keeping by an audience member.
Gaining fame as a finalist on "America's Got Talent," The Deductionist (Scottish Colin Cloud) boggled the audience by "mind-reading" names, occupations and birthdays. He even guesses who one audience member's favorite celebrity is, opening a huge envelope that was onstage from the start of his act to reveal a poster-size photo. Cloud, who fancies himself the Sherlock Holmes of the magic set, has an undeniable charm and Scottish panache, making audience members willingly suspend their disbelief.
With his Charlie "Chaplinesque" style, Australian Raymond Crowe (The Unusualist) used his mime skills in a whimsical dance with the suit jacket of an audience member. One of the high points of the evening was his signature piece "The Shadows," in which he performs an incredible array of hand shadows to the music of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World."
While the show could use more interaction among the performers, and is especially in need of a more mind-blowing finale with the entire group, the engaged audience clearly enjoyed the earnest conjurations of a talented group of performers.
Their road-honed show was just the right blend of escapism, wizardry and smoke and mirrors to blow away both the weather and the daily bleak headlines in the world outside for those willing to check their skepticism at the door.
Sheryl Jensen is a former teacher, magazine editor and director. She reviews theater for the News Tribune.