1903 is the third incarnation of The Illusionists stage show, following the original The Illusionists, and the simply named The Illusionists 2.0. With a whole new cast, I expected a vast and stunning display of magic and awe… and I sort of got it. But only sort of.
The Illusionists 1903 is set in the golden era of magic, when magicians and illusionists were heroes, and sparked mystery into the hearts of their audience. Predominantly, the tricks stick to that time period, with the daring Escapologist (Krendl) recreating Houdini’s water torture chamber, and the Showman (Mark Kalin) sawing the beautiful Conjuress (Jinger Leigh) in half before revealing her body to be fine after the act.
Unfortunately, this makes them predictable. Except for a few occasions, I already knew what was going to happen, and how each trick was going to go. The Escapologist is not going to drown, the Conjuress is not going to lose her legs, and of course the Clairvoyants (Tommy Ten and Amelie van Tass) can read each other’s minds, and the serial numbers on a ‘randomly selected’ $50 bill from the audience.
While the big acts were thrilling, set to a huge soundtrack complimented by onstage musicians, a lot of tension can be lost if you already know how the illusion is going to end. The Immortal (Rick Thomas) suddenly flying towards an already-levitating stagehand just isn’t that impressive when you know that he’s attached to a set of wires.
So instead of the real illusions, I was a lot more impressed by the parlour trickery and slapstick humour of the Charlatan (Dana Daniels) and the Eccentric (Charlie Frye). The Charlatan has excellent comedic timing, reminding me almost of the Genie from Aladdin, with a quip for every circumstance and eventuality. He plays well against his psychic dove – which is of course not psychic at all – but is used hilariously as a prop during his performance. The Charlatan has excellent sleight of hand skills, and despite my seat being a great distance from the stage, it was still a delight to watch him work.
The Eccentric, on the other hand, is wonderfully physical. The majority of his act consists of flashy juggling skills and deft hat-catching, which makes for a delightful performance. His assistant, a dour ‘wife’ character who seems to have no respect for her husband’s skills, was an excellent counterpoint to the Eccentric’s jester-like persona.
Finally, the Grand Carlini, a marionette puppet controlled by Justo Thaus, was a real wonder to watch. While it’s obvious that you can see the strings on him, his magic top hat and disappearing ball acts were great fun, and it was easy to forget that he wasn’t even a real human, let alone an illusionist.
I suppose this is a mixed review. The staging of the show was spectacular, and as I mentioned earlier the soundtrack was superb, which helps draw the audience into the tension of the water chamber. Some of the acts I wasn’t familiar with (like the return of Eve’s stolen rib to Adam as a beautiful assistant climbs inside of one of the men) were exciting, but the majority of the golden age tricks were so commonplace that it was hard to be thrilled.
I would say the show is very family friendly, possibly a little more impressive for the younger parts of said family. The Illusionists can call me back when they’re creating their own magic.