Ottawa Event Review: The Illusionists

Sunday night I attended Broadway Across Canada’s final Ottawa presentation of The Illusionists at the National Arts Centre. This is a well-hyped show, and I was curious to see it for myself. This show is part of a large franchise of magicians and performers who travel the world performing as The Illusionists.

The event began with darkness, then the stage was filled with lights and loud, epic music, creating an ethereal atmosphere perfect for a magic show.  A giant screen on the stage played a clip of Scotland’s Colin Cloud wowing the judges and audience on America’s Got Talent, which I felt was a great introduction to the show. I was immediately drawn in, and was on the edge of my seat, excitedly awaiting the appearance of The Illusionists on stage.

The Illusionists are comprised of Colin Cloud (the Deductionist), Jeff Hobson (the Trickster), Kevin James (the Inventor), An Ha Lim (the Manipulator), and Jonathan Goodwin (the Daredevil). I appreciated these monikers, I felt as though they gave a Superhero-esque vibe to the show. I liked that each of the Illusionists is touted as a true expert in his craft. They each wore costumes that played up their character, which added to the experience as well.

The show was a mix of comedy, illusions, and daredevil type stunts, with the comedy breaks coming primarily from Jeff Hobson, who truly impressed the audience with his humour. Equal parts comedian and trickster, Hobson provided entertainment during breaks between more elaborate tricks, while the stage was being reset. Hobson is truly a star, and I left feeling as though he could headline his own show in Vegas, without question. I loved the balance between comedy and magic throughout the evening, which was largely due to Hobson’s quick wit and hilarious one liners. The comedy was a bit PG at times, but the show remained family friendly, with a few of the audience participants being children.

Speaking of audience participation, an element of this production that really impressed me was the number of audience participants that were used, many being selected randomly by other audience members. This legitimized the illusions for the audience, as there were unscripted, unanticipated participants on the stage, who were able to see and feel the illusions up close. Further, the viewing experience for all audience members was enhanced by a camera man, on stage at almost all times, taking close up video that was projected onto the large screen above the stage. It really felt as though I was right there, on the stage as well. About halfway through the show, I stopped trying to figure out how they could possibly be doing the tricks, and just allowed myself to enjoy the ‘magic’.

I won’t give away too much detail on the tricks that were performed, as I feel as though it takes away from the experience if one anticipates what is coming. I will say, however, that some highlights included Goodwin (the Daredevil) escaping from a straightjacket seconds before falling 25 feet, saving himself at the last moment, James (the Inventor) teaching a young girl how to make a tissue levitate and ‘dance’ in his hand, Lim (the Manipulator) performing card manipulation, and Cloud (the Deductionist) thrilling the crowd by reading minds. Cloud is truly a wonder, and really makes the show something to see. This show is fast paced and riveting, and I couldn’t believe how quickly time flew by. But the performance, including intermission, lasted just over two hours, which felt like the perfect amount of time.

The NAC provided the perfect venue for this production. I’ve said before that the NAC doesn’t have a bad seat in the house, and this rang especially true for this show. At other events like this, it is typically the first two rows that are selected to be participants on stage, but during The Illusionists, no audience member was safe, regardless of where they were seated, which was great for those seated in the upper levels or near the back. I was seated in box 12, to the right of the stage, and had a perfect view of the stage and the large screen (for close up shots) throughout the entire evening. The newly renovated NAC featured very comfortable seats and large, beautiful areas for sitting, enjoying a drink, or just visiting and relaxing.

My only qualm with The Illusionists was the price of the tickets. I paid over $150 each for mid-range priced seats, which makes this an expensive evening out, and while I don’t have an issue paying high prices for shows that blow me away, this wasn’t one of them. It was great, don’t get me wrong, but I do think that the ticket price is very high considering the show. Were the ticket prices not so high, this would be a great event for one to take the entire family to, as the children in attendance seemed particularly awestruck.

All in all, this is a highly entertaining event, suitable for audiences of almost any age, and it was a lot of fun. Would I go again? Probably not. Am I glad that I saw it? Absolutely.

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