In today’s day and age it’s difficult to imagine the essence of a classic variety show — one without the elaborate gimmicks and bougie speakeasy-like feel that truly allows one to escape their reality for a mere few hours. With a modern twist and sophisticated comedy, The Illusionists — Magic of the Holidays is among the closest Broadway audiences get to that old-world style entertainment.
This iteration of the The Illusionists (note: it’s the performance troupe’s fifth Broadway appearance) is a healthy mix of classic sleight-of-hand card tricks, disappearing acts, and mind-reading stunts — to name a few. From the start, the audience is encouraged to suspend their disbelief and surrender their logical minds to magic and illusion.
Hosted by British comic Paul Dabek (aka The Trickster), humor is front and center of this production. Dabek impressively weaves in jokes for all ages and even acknowledges that he may cross what PG line at times, claiming “Don’t worry, you can laugh. The children don’t get all the jokes.” The ability to connect and entertain a theatre of varying ages and interests is an amazing feat that Dabek very successfully handles show after show.
Cue the illusionists, who all hail from different corners of the world — Chris Cox, Kevin James, Enzo Weyne, Eric Chien, and Dom Chambers.
Chris Cox (The Mentalist) is a mind-reader and his fun, but zany act focuses on his ability to connect with an audience member and reveal exactly what they’re thinking. It’s quite impressive and one could say, mind-bending.
Enzo Weyne (The Unforgettable) is a French magician who is versatile in his routine. He is able to transport objects and even himself at the speed of light as well as perform a variation of the classic act in which he’s able to detach parts of his assistant’s body.
From the land down under (and America’s Got Talent), Dom Chambers (The Showman) has a very laid back vibe and invites the audience to join him for a round drinks stage. These aren’t just any pints of beer however, they’re pints that Chambers brewed up himself, out of his shoe or cell phone — you know places where you would typically find pints of beer and bottles of wine.
Kevin James (The Inventor) had the most thematic acts of the show — he set his take on the classic “saw in half” magic trick in Santa’s Workshop with the help of an ensemble of elves and (slightly overdone) modern holiday music. James took a bit to warm up to, but his act is dually sentimental, as in his second illusion he includes the participation of a little girl in the audience to assist him making a napkin levitate and take various forms.
Eric Chien (The Manipulator) of America’s Got Talent fame is able to accomplish card and coin tricks that are unthinkable and truly mesmerizing. Quiet in demeanor, but mighty in skill. He’s somehow even able to change the color of the vest he’s wearing. It’s also worth noting that Chien closes out the show.
Dabek is also an impressive illusionist and leverages his comedy to create a truly unique act that connects with the audience in a way that the other illusionists can not. He was by far the most enjoyable entertainer in the show and kept the jokes and tricks coming in the most surprising moments.
The Illusionists: Magic of the Holidays is a surefire night of enjoyment for audience members of any age and any type of humor. There is something for everybody at this show. In sum, expect the unexpected — and maybe even be called up to participate.
The Illusionists: Magic of the Holidays is currently playing at the Neil Simon Theatre (250 West 52nd Street) through January 5, 2020. You can find more information on the show and tickets by visiting