Review: Nothing is what it seems in SHN’s ‘The Illusionists’

Group 2
“The Illusionists” spend a week of magic in San Francisco. (Photo by The Illusionists)

Wait, how did they do that?

You know, that is pretty much the question that everyone asks while watching something as sublime as “The Illusionists,” the magic spectacular that takes root at San Francisco’s Orpheum Theatre through Feb. 21st. And for those who are magic novices like tricks, these illusions and myself are impossible to explain.

Now, I’ve had some experience with magic shows. I’ve seen a decent amount of them, and thoroughly enjoyed Siegfried and Roy back in 2001 when my wife had this fascination with white tigers. Even in college, I was reviewing a show and unfortunately was asked up on stage in order to be stuffed into a trunk. That was certainly not my finest hour.

“The Illusionists” are something like counter-culture magicians, a band of misfits that all look crazy intense with crazy intense nicknames, save for the charming host of the proceedings, the delightful Jeff Hobson. Known as “The Trickster,” Hobson innuendoed his heart up and down the Orpheum aisles much to the delight of the San Francisco audience. While there was plenty of humor that might not be appropriate for kids (I took a friend’s 11-year-old daughter, and much of that humor seemed to slide over her head), this is still a show that features no kind of swearing, and is pretty tame in the appropriateness department.

Jeff Hobson - The Trickster.jpg
Jeff Hobson, “The Trickster,” is a most excellent host. (Photo by The Illusionists)

Hobson certainly did much to tie the entire show together beautifully, working the audience at every turn, flirting with every type of man in the audience with hilarious results. While those in the front row were particularly susceptible to volunteering (or just straight up dragging), Hobson’s wandering eye was not limited to those closest to the stage.

While Hobson certainly kept the fare light and breezy, the other, more intense magicians brought forth some seriously high-level skill.

Because there are multiple magicians, the show does a wonderful job of balancing the various personalities. Take someone like Dan Sperry, known as the “Anti-Conjuror.” His personality is one that is dark and gothish, wasting no time to share that his brand of magic is cringe-inducing.

And that is said with the highest level of respect. What is phenomenal about Sperry is while he is full of humor and charm, he is also a phenomenal showman, showcased beautifully with his set that included lots of birds, hats and canes.

Someone like “The Inventor” Kevin James, who prowls the scene with a lab coat, goggles and a stethoscope, is very intense, but is also amazingly warm, taking a young man up on the stage to share in a very cool trick with a Kennedy half-dollar and a glass bottle. He has a warm, Midwestern persona, attributed to his Michigan roots, and shares an ode to those roots with a little tribute to snow.

Because there is such great humor throughout, it brings in very tightly the most intense moments, especially in regards to “Weapon Master” Ben Blaque. His precision with crossbows and the amazing discomfort witnessing his sharpness, placing a female cast member just inches from danger, is spectacular. It is the only moment in the show where a narrator reminds the audience of the critical nature of silence, creating a lot of dramatic tension.

A very charming Andrew Basso, “The Escapologist,” is certainly warm, taking the audience back to an historical context with a throwback trick to Harry Houdini. And James More, “The Deceptor” pulls off a trick that is so smooth that you can’t look just at the stage to see the whole trick to its fruition.

The entire feel of the show is one of entertainment. It’s not often where the audience in the Orpheum has the chance to just relax and enjoy the show as opposed to delving deep into a story. It starts off with the fact that there are no programs to distract the audience. It also helps that the audience was plenty raucous, a point that Sperry was sure to acknowledge as a very good thing. And while there seemed to be some technical glitches at the top of the show, those things got ironed out pretty quickly.

The question I asked at the top of this review doesn’t stop when the show ends. And in today’s information age, you can probably find the answers. But no matter what may be found, it doesn’t take away from the fact that this is a show full of fun and wonderment, something that entertains the socks off your feet. Or in the case of some of the audience members, the watches off their wrists.

WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO

SHNSF Presents “The Illusionists”
Through Feb. 21st
The Orpheum Theatre
1192 Market St., San Francisco, CA
Running time: 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission
Tickets range from $45 – $212
For tickets, call (888) 746-1799 or visit www.shnsf.com

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