The Illusionists live on stage at Clark State

Jeff Hobson, The Trickster, interacts with an audience member on stage in The Illusionist’s act. Photo: Joan Marcus

By Tim Smith 

Audiences have long been fascinated by magic and the art of illusion. It’s been a popular form of stage entertainment from Harry Houdini to Siegfried and Roy. The newest incarnation of big stage illusion is presented by The Illusionists, a group of magicians from around the world who have captured Broadway and the world stage with their over-the-top, gee-whiz trickery.

Stage illusions are performed for large audiences, typically within a theatre or auditorium. This type of magic is distinguished by large-scale props, the use of assistants, and often exotic animals such as elephants and tigers. The Illusionists have shattered box office records across the globe and delighted audiences of all ages with a powerful mix of outrageous and astonishing acts.

The Dayton City Paper recently caught up with Jeff Hobson—aka The Trickster—at his Las Vegas home. He explained how The Illusionists got together for their eventual Broadway run.

“The show was the brainchild of our producer, Simon Painter,” he says. “He’s produced other Cirque-type circus shows in the past but he’s always loved magic and wanted to put together the greatest magic show ever staged. Our first two-plus seasons were spent in Europe, then we did two winter seasons on Broadway. Now we’re in our sixth season.”

The line-up for their North American tour features five illusionists, each with their own specialty. They include Jeff Hobson as The Trickster, Jonathon Goodwin as The Daredevil, Colin Cloud as The Deductionist, Kevin James as The Inventor, and An Ha Lim as The Manipulator. The illusionists who appear on tour vary, and the cast is usually tailored to whichever country the group is performing in.

“It depends on the producer, who has the final say,” Hobson says. “If you take a look at the graphic on our website, we are perceived as The Avengers of Magic because each of us have our own skill set—one is a mentalist, one is an illusionist, one is danger, one is humor, and one is magic. What the show needs at the time depends on what the show includes. It also depends on what country we’re in. If we’re in South America, we’ll choose mostly Spanish-speaking magicians, including someone who is known in that country. The producer finds the best in the world, wherever they are, and hunts them down.”

Magic and illusion are akin to dance and music in that they transcend cultural and language barriers. That doesn’t mean that adjustments don’t need to be made to tailor the show to the audience or location, though.

“One of the biggest challenges was when we went across Germany, Hungary, Italy, Slovenia, and Slovakia,” Hobson says. “I had the biggest challenge because I do most of the humor, and we used translators. I found as we went across Eastern Europe that my jokes didn’t translate well into other languages, so I had to adjust it quite a bit. It was very challenging. Magic is one of the arts, sort of like dance, that easily translates across language barriers. Except for yours truly who had to translate my jokes. Our show is 95 percent visual so it’s good for all languages and cultures.”

Moving a large-scale show such as this from one venue to another across the country brings its share of challenges.

“The biggest challenge is, of course, adapting to many different types of theaters and what they have—the sizing, the backstage, that sort of thing,” Hobson says. “Also adapting to different audiences. No matter where you go across the world, you have different types of audiences.”

Speaking of audiences, Hobson points out that reactions vary from place to place. Some of the illusions and tricks can be somewhat graphic, which produces some unexpected responses.

“We have our share of people who faint, scream, run out of the theater, or become squeamish,” Hobson says. “There are some people who are just quite amazed at what we do. Part of magic’s allure is the surprise of what happens next. Obviously, you don’t show the same trick twice because you want the audience to be surprised. Kevin James, one of our illusionists, does the sawing a person in half trick and probably gets one of the biggest reactions from the audience.”

The Illusionists work hard to make their show an interactive experience and draw the audience members into the action.

“We do have a heavy audience participation in our shows, so children will be able to participate, as well as adults, men, and women,” Hobson says. “It’s the comradery of the audience after the show when the realize that they’ve been a part of the show, too. When they see the promo trailers, they may think Oh, it’s too graphic for children, but it’s really a show for audiences aged 7 to 107. If you’re 108, you’re probably out of luck.”

Hobson and company hope that the crowd takes away a truly memorable experience after the curtain has come down.

“This is probably the greatest magic show you’ll ever see,” he says. “Here, you get to see several types of magicians on one stage all at once doing their best material. This is truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, because we don’t repeat too many elements from place to place. There’s not a boring moment in the show.”

The Illusionists-Live from Broadway will appear at Clark State’s Kuss Auditorium on Dec. 9 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Tickets range from $37.00 to $61.00 and can be obtained through Clark State Performing Arts Center box office, by visiting ClarkState.edu through Ticketmaster, or by calling 800.745.3000. More information about The Illusionists can be found at TheIllusionistsLive.com/

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Tim Smith
Tim Smith is an award-winning, bestselling author. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Smith at TimSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com

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