‘The Illusionists: Turn of the Century’ teaches history at Clark State

By Matt Clevenger

Photo: The Conjuress, Jinger Leigh, (left) and The Illusionists appear at Clark State Nov. 18 and 19

Prepare to be amazed (and educated), as Broadway’s smash hit “The Illusionists” returns to Springfield with a brand new show designed to transport audiences back to the “golden age” of magic.

Featuring a team of nine world-class performers from across the globe, “The Illusionists: Turn of the Century” is much more than just an ordinary magic show; it also explores the origins of the greatest and most dangerous illusions ever built.

“‘The Turn of the Century’ gives a new twist by bringing back the past and moving forward with it,” illusionist Jinger Leigh, who performs in the show, says. “It highlights the golden age of magic, which took place around the turn of the century and into the early ’20s. All of the principal performers in the show, or the illusionists themselves, are characters that you would have seen around that time.”

Appearing at the Clark State Performing Arts Center Friday, Nov. 18 and Saturday, Nov. 19, the Broadway-bound show is scripted like a play, making it a little different from previous “Illusionists” productions. “It was put together from a more theatrical standpoint,” Leigh says. “It is scripted with some insightful and interesting historical content, which is one of the most interesting parts of the show—to hear about the origins and different, funny stories about illusions that tricked people.”

The show also features excellent scenery, and original music performed by the Prague Symphony. “On top of fabulous performers, we have amazing scenery that is very rich and evocative of turn of the century,” Leigh says. “If you think of the movie ‘The Prestige’ or the TV series Downton Abbey, you can get a feeling for that colorful, rich costuming and set design, kind of like visual eye candy.”

“It is beautifully composed,” she adds. “Our music was done by Evan Jolly. He composed all original music, and it was recorded by a 60-piece orchestra, the Prague Symphony. We get a lot of compliments after the show about the music.”

The show features a total of nine well-known illusionists, each specializing in their own particular field of magic. Leigh performs as “The Conjuress” with her husband, illusionist Mark Kalin as “The Showman.” The cast also includes Dana Daniels as “The Charlatan,” Charlie Frye as “The Eccentric,” Jonathan Goodwin as “The Daredevil,” Justo Thaus as “The Grand Carlini,” Rick Thomas as “The Immortal,” and husband and wife duo Thommy Ten and Amelie van Tass as “The Clairvoyants.”

“It’s lovely to be working with all the different talents,” Leigh says. “There’s a competitiveness that pushes innovation, and pushes us to always do our best. But that’s just a professional competitiveness. There’s a real comradery amongst the performers, because we’re all different; nobody’s doing the same thing as the other. We’re all very much specialists in our field, so it’s a joy getting to be part of a collaborative effort like this.

“We all get along, and it’s fun,” she says. “There’s a few key moments in the show, where all of the performers are on-stage at one time, where we do a collective trick or a collective scene; that’s the most fun, I think.”

All of the show’s performers are expert illusionists, with years of experience. Leigh and her husband Mark Kalin have been performing together for approximately 25 years, and in that time, she estimates she has performed tens of thousands of individual tricks and illusions.

“Different effects? Probably hundreds,” she continues. “How many times? In the thousands or tens of thousands. There was a time in our casino days, during the ’90s and 2000s, we were doing at least two shows a night, six days a week, 50 weeks a year, so that’s a lot of experience. Since then, we’ve traveled around the world several times.”

Leigh and her husband have worked with ‘The Illusionists’ for four or five years.

“We’ve had a very wonderful, long and diverse career in magic. It’s provided us so much personally and professionally. But this is definitely the culmination, where we will be doing these previews in Springfield, and then moving on to Broadway.

“It’s got a lot,” she says of the “Turn of the Century” show. “When people come to see the show I think they will be surprised because it’s a whole different experience. It takes it to another level.

“It should really be a wonderful, high-energy experience for everyone,” she says. “Broadway is the next stop…Springfield is sort of our spring-board, because it is our last stop before we open at the Palace Theatre in Times Square on Broadway, in time for the holidays. The audiences who come to the Springfield shows are getting the last peek, and the last feeling of all of our energies towards improving and tweaking and getting the show just right. So, it should be a really fun experience for us as performers and for the audiences because it is our last stop.”

‘The Illusionists: Turn of the Century’ appears at the Clark State Performing Arts Center, 300 S. Fountain Ave. in Springfield Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18 and 19. Shows start at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the Clark State PAC box office, by phone at 800.745.3000 or at Ticketmaster.com. For more information, please visit TheIllusionistsLive.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Matt Clevenger at MattClevenger@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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