Broadway’s coming to Wilmington this weekend, but not with music and dance. Instead, audiences at the Wilson Center will have to question whether seeing really is believing when “The Illusionists” take the stage. With death-defying stunts and sleights of hand, this magical performance will amaze for two shows on May 13.
“The Illusionists” first premiered in Sydney, Australia, in 2012. Since, they have traveled the world with multiple tours and performers. Every show contains anywhere from around five to eight performers, with five main recurring magicians. In 2014 they began their first live Broadway show in New York City where it was one of the highest-grossing productions at the Marriott Marquis Theatre. In 2016 the show was the first to gross over one million GBP during its tour at the Shaftesbury Theatre in London. The group also performed for the judges of “America’s Got Talent” in 2015.
“The Daredevil” (Jonathan Goodwin) strikes fear into the hearts of the toughest audience members with his death-defying acts, from being buried alive to burned at the stake. The show’s modern-day Sherlock Holmes, or “The Deductionist” (Colin Cloud), can take one look and know what car someone drives and what they had for lunch. Kevin James brings his brand of “magic innovation” to the show as “The Inventor” when he performs iconic tricks, like “The Floating Rose,” which he designed and David Copperfield popularized. Award-winning magician An Ha Lim performs as “The Manipulator,” baffling audiences with few words but many surprises, and Jeff Hobson amuses with tricks and gags to leave everyone laughing as “The Trickster.”
“Our show has quite an amazing effect on many people in the audience who only came to the show because it was a ‘family’ event,” Hobson tells. “They came really not knowing what they’re getting into. Those people come up to me after the show and gush of how much they loved the show and so thankful they came. I love to convert people to the professional magic art form.”
Together, the group makes up the “Avengers of Magic,” with each performer specializing in one degree of entertainment. With a constantly rotating cast, each show brings new talent and tricks to excite audiences.
“I like to think about it as the ultimate variety show of magic,” Hobson describes. “There’s a number of different types of magic in our show. Dramatic sensational magic, poignant beautiful magic, jaw-dropping, amazing magic and funny magic. All performed by magicians from around the world.”
Hobson has been a fan of magic since he was a young child growing up in Detroit. At 7 years old, he got the opportunity to see a magician perform in his school and the experience changed him. “At that moment,” Hobson remembers. “I knew I wanted to be a magician for the rest of my life.”
Following the discovery of his new passion, Hobson took every chance to perform magic for others.
“I had an uncle that gave me two dollars to ‘buy something’ for myself,” he retells. “My aunt took me to a store and I bought a deck of magic-trick cards. My uncle was very disappointed I ‘spent the money foolishly,’ as he put it. I was thrilled. It was the first trick I ever purchased. That thrill is still with me.”
Comedy became a part of Hobson’s act because of his tendency to joke around with participants over his 26 years of performing. “I love to play with my audiences,” he points out. “That’s my fun; I pick people and take a chance. I never know what they’ll do or say on stage with me.”
In school he was the class clown, always cracking up his fellow classmates. Now, he continues to trick his participants by using humor to set up his acts and leave them laughing as a distraction. Right when they least expect it is when Hobson reveals his surprise, like the time he managed to fool the cast of the “TODAY Show” by making an egg appear and disappear right before their eyes.
“I’m living my childhood dream,” Hobson fondly says. “It doesn’t get better than this. Besides my family, it’s everything to me.”
Hobson believes magic is more important now than ever before. While children often enjoy magic in their youth, as they grow older they tend to lose their sense of wonder.
“[Magic] allows adults to rediscover their childlike natures,” Hobson explains. “Kids will automatically believe in magic. We adults have been jaded by life. Magic is a fun way of reattaching to those forgotten ‘wonder’ moments we had as children.”
The group also hopes their show will grow with the evolving field of magic. In recent years, numerous online magicians have made a name for themselves on platforms like Vine, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. Yet, Hobson is not discouraged.
“With the explosion of online videos and TV exposure,” Hobson notes. “I believe magic will have an ever-increasing demand to be seen live and in-person. That’s where magic has the most impact; when you know there’s no camera tricks.”
All five main cast members will perform at the Wilson Center this weekend and audience participation is encouraged. Around 20 folks will be invited to actively participate, with some even getting the chance to join the magicians onstage (if they have the guts to volunteer). Other tricks will require the involvement of the entire audience.
“Not to give away any surprises—as surprise is essential to much of magic’s impact,” Hobson expresses, “but there’s lots of audience-favorite moments. One is when our deductionist correctly predicts what audience members are thinking. Another is when our inventor cuts a person in half, but with no covering—in full view of the audience. I often hear audience members screaming during this one.”