Mirvish brings all-ages magic show to the Toronto stage
With all the marketing around The Illusionists as a great show for the whole family, I was pleased but not surprised to see lots of kids hopping eagerly up the stairs with their grownups at the Princess of Wales Theatre on Friday evening. My seven-year-old companion was similarly irrepressible with anticipation for all the excitement that awaited, which – – mostly — delivered on its promise.
We were both disappointed in the beginning of the show, in which The Trickster, Jeff Hobson, opened with a few cheap “jokes” about transgender people. They got laughs, because everyone’s very ready to have a laugh at the expense of trans people these days, but it didn’t land well for us. Hobson’s flamboyant and flirtatious patter is clearly pitched for the amusement of a straight audience that’s accustomed to laughing at gender-nonconforming behaviour. It probably works for some people, but it felt pointlessly mean to me. So did The Daredevil, Jonathan Goodwin, making a cheap #metoo joke when he asked an audience member to check his skin with her hands and she did as asked.
Beyond that, the illusions and acts were mostly either delightful or harrowing — sometimes both. We all enjoyed The Unusualist, Raymond Crowe, whose illusions were so peculiar and playful — he seemed like a great big kid enjoying a great big joke. The Eccentric, Charlie Frye (and his wonderfully expressive assistant/foil, Sherry), was a pleasingly old-fashioned juggler and acrobat who brought classic circus fun while standing on one wobbly foot. While not strictly what one thinks of as “magic tricks,” they were great to watch and admire.
The Grand Illusionist, Darcy Oake, made waves with his live animal illusions and friendly, familiar patter. We both found him a pleasure to listen to and to watch. His was the most familiar “magic show” magic: lots of things appearing and disappearing, which we all loved. And The Manipulator, An Ha Lim, delivered card tricks that beggared the imagination — where in the world did they all come from? Mentalist Colin Cloud found his mark repeatedly, though I wonder whether people are so accustomed to the idea that it’s all a trick that they were resolutely unimpressed. Cloud seemed a bit in a rush, honestly, even though I enjoyed his various displays.
For sheer impact, Daredevil Jonathan Goodwin — last seen dangling upside down with his pants non-euphemistically on fire — made the biggest splash. His well-executed stunts were visually arresting and actually quite terrifying to watch, for both grown people and children. My small companion and the friend he made at intermission alternated between covering their faces and staring wide-eyed when the crossbows came out in the second act.
Overall, I found the show a very pleasing treat to share with my 2nd grader — it was nice to have a fancy evening outing, see a show that held their entire attention every minute, and left us feeling enthusiasric about future opportunities to see magic performed by people instead of camera tricks. Since seeing The Illusionists, decks of cards have been vigorously scattered across our living room many, many, many times by small hands attempting a showy shuffle. It’s hard to imagine a better overall compliment than that.
- The Illusionists is playing at the Princess of Wales Theatre (300 King Street West) through January 7th, 2017.
- Shows run Tuesday to Saturday at 7:30 p.m, and Saturday & Sunday at 1:30 p.m (with multiple additional matinees at 11am and 3pm during the school break).
- Tickets range from $38.00 to $185.00
- Tickets are available by phone at 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333, in-person at the Princess of Wales Theatre box office or online at Mirvish.com
photo of An Ha Lim provided by the Mirvish organization