Arts & Culture

'The Illusionists' opens in Tampa

Yu Ho-Jin is "the Manipulator." Dan Sperry is "the Conjurer." Aaron Crow is called "the Warrior."

Those three, along with four other mystically nicknamed stage magicians -- including the Escapologist, the Futurist, and the Trickster -- make up the cast of "The Illusionists -- Witness the Impossible," the flashy and splashy show that's been a hit all over the world.

It's coming to Tampa for the first time next week, with a six-day, eight-show run at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts.

"The show started three years ago," said "the Inventor," a.k.a. Kevin James. "Our first show was at the Sydney Opera House. Nobody had any idea how successful this show was going to be. Least of all us."

The show's been a favorite around the world, but it came to America only recently. It premiered on Broadway last fall, and was a big holiday hit before it began its national tour.

Despite its Broadway and opera house origins, James said, it's a pure magic show, but one unlike anyone you've seen before. It's been playing in theaters and performing arts halls because it didn't fit in more traditional magic venues.

"I don't think Broadway knew how to cubbyhole us," James said. "We weren't a musical and we weren't a book show. We were just great entertainment."

The magicians in the show were recruited -- "head-hunted" was the word James used -- from around the world. Some of them knew each other by reputation or they had encountered each other on the road, but they had never doe a show like this one.

"Basically, the show is seven different magicians, all doing our own material," James said. "We all have different styles."

There are some ensemble pieces, and Jeff Hobson ("the Trickster") ties the pieces together with some comic relief. A live band and the requisite lovely assistants also help produce continuity between pieces.

Those nicknames give an idea of what audiences can expect from each magician. James said he's still astounded by some of the magic acts he sees on tour every night.

He's especially impressed with Italian escape artist Andrew Bosso, who re-creates Harry Houdini's famous water torture cell escape.

"He risks his life every night on stage," James said. "I just couldn't do that. He hold his breath underwater for three minutes. I stand offstage and sometimes I try to hold my breath while he does. After 45 seconds I'm dying to take a breath."

Some of the magic is bold and spectacular, but there's also some sleight-of-hand and card magic that audience get to see close-up through live images projected on screens.

The show also includes a lot of audience participation, and one review from earlier in the tour noted that virtually no one seated in the orchestra was safe from being pulled onto the stage or into one of the magician's tricks.

Details: May 26-31, Morsani Hall at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. MacInnes Place, Tampa. Show times: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $56-$82 plus service charge and up. Information: 813-229-7827,

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919.