Review of The Illusionists at Marina Bay Sands

Ning & I headed to Marina Bay Sands for the second time in two days (we had a corporate show the previous day at MBS) to catch the last show of “The Illusionists”.

This is the 2nd time we watched the show and we brought Adeline and owners of Bar 84, Fukumoto and Hashi with us. The first time we watched the show early in the run (see backstage pics here), we were invited by Singapore Press Holdings. This time, the cast from the show got us comp tickets as they wanted us to see the show as it evolved, changed and improved over its run here.

I thought I would hold off a review or rather show run-down so that I would not spoil the show for anybody wanting to watch the show until after the show closed. I will say right from the start that this show was much better than the first show we show. It was re-ordered, tightened and the sequences were more polished.

The original cast for Singapore featured Dan Sperry, Brett Daniels, Andrew Basso, Philip Escoffey and James Dimmare. However, James was not in the show for the last 5 shows. In the Sydney run, Kevin James and Jeff Hobson were also in the show but left before coming to Singapore. Uncredited in the show is Michael Halvarson (thanks to Lukas Zainzinger for the name credit) who is from Sweden. He was from Cirque du Soleil where he performed a pickpocket act that is presented by different performers in different Cirque shows.

The pre-show starts with Michael welcoming the audience on the floor and getting a spectator on stage to perform Wayne Dobson’s  “Invisible Card in Purse Frame” routine. I did not think that it was a good opening the first time I watched and still did not think it was a great pre-show piece; although the audience did react positively. He did do a better job in the second show. I can’t really place Michael’s stage character and he never did connect with me. But, I suspect that it is because he was booked to fill the Jeff Hobson role and possibly requested to emulate Hobson’s style… which is near impossible.

The show starts proper with an innovative video sequence narrated by Philip. It ends with the revelation that Philip is actually in the audience and a video camera is trained on him. He introduces himself and kicks off the show proper on the main stage.

The opening sequence involves dancers and the different performers introducing themselves with a short sequence. Michael started with some silks, Dan Sperry performed a “Dekolta’s Chair” illusion with Temika and Andrew escaped from a Straight Jacket (but with the buckles in front to show the audience what it is).

This led to Brett performing his “Zombie Globe” from his “Magic & Beyond” show with Dale Salwak’s Mylar streamer ending. The entire sequence closed with Brett’s horse carriage appearance, that was first featured in his “Wohscigam” show. As mentioned in my previous blog, this uses the same apparatus for his Lamborghini Appearance. So, while the carriage appears on the platform, the horses are “floating” in the air; a small point that bothered me but not anyone else. The opening act end with all “The Illusionists” taking an assemble “X-men”-like pose.

The opening sequence was much better than the first time we watched it. It was tighter and focused; attention was not pulled away from different performers as they entered the stage.

Dan Sperry performs an “in-one” piece (in front of the main curtain) in the form of his presentation of Sean Field’s “Saw”. He pops a lifesaver into his mouth, bites it into pieces and swallows it. A piece of dental floss is “sawn” into his neck and he pulls out the lifesaver through the front of his neck. This small scale effect is aided by the giant video screen behind him but it is Dan’s characterization and image that make the piece very effective (as with all his routines)

Dancers take the stage performing a sequence of producing red lights at their fingertips (nod to Rocco) that transits to Brett who also catches a red light from the air. This leads into his “Marilyn Monroe” illusion. The first time we watched the show, he did not use Marilyn and that reduced the impact I think. Anyway, this time, Marilyn was back and the illusion was well executed, even better than the first time. In this illusion, a giant picture of Marilyn is shown, the image vanishes and a real “Marilyn magically appears. She then vanishes into thin air and her picture reappears in the frame. In a very sweet spot, the giant book that Brett read from early closes by itself after the pages turn by themselves.

Brett continued with Gene Anderson’s newspaper tear to demonstrate the difference between magic and illusion. While I considered this a bit of a cliched piece of magic, it did get audible gasps from some in the audience, both times I watched the show. He then headed back to stage to perform a close-up act with a table and close-up camera and screen. In both shows, he flashed a bit during the performance of a card act whose basic premise is a four Ace production & vanish. He does a sweet “Benzais Spinout Move” as he has done for years and ended his act with a colour changing deck similar to Henry Evans’.

Dan returned to the stage with his performance of the “Razor Blades from Mouth”. Suffice to say, he presents it very differently from Ning who also eats a flaming torch after swallowing the blades. A nice touch was having his Dante’s Table in the form of a girl with mannequin body pushing out a pram.

Philip, playing the role of the “Mentalist” was up next. He is the most consistent performer in terms of having perfect and entertaining acts even though he uses multiple volunteers and his routines are quite long, even by mentalism standards. The first of two spots of the show involved him presenting his handling of Alan Saxon’s “Confubulation” routine. His presentation sees him giving a psychic reading to a lady. I’m not sure how strong the effect registers to the average lay audience because the routine is long though very entertaining throughout. I wonder if it comes to the point that the audience just enjoys what is happening on stage and do not “realize” how strong the actual effect is.

Andrew Basso from Italy was up next presenting his version of the Houdini “Water Torture Cell”. As mentioned previously, Ning & I feel he presents the best version of this act that is presented by escape artists all over the world. He makes the escape very believable with suspense and a real sense of danger and victorious relief after.

I should mention at this point that there is a live band that supports the show. The band is distracting at times because they are between the first row and the front of the stage. The sound volume can also be very loud at times, distracting from the show. I felt this for Brett’s close-up sequence. But, there were times, the band supported the show well such as the opening sequence and Andrew’s escape act.

After the escape act, the show breaks for a long 20-minute intermission. Towards the end of the break, the band starts playing again and this time the “lead singer/ DJ” takes the mike and thinks he is in a club. This is really odd for a show in a theatre like this and feels out of place. While most in the audience played along, I’m not sure how they felt about it.

The first act of the second half of the show featured Andrew returning in full “Euro Goth Trash” attire in full leather and mesh shirt. He showcased his personality with a comedic presentation of the Kellar Rope Tie, using his leather jacket as cover.

Michael takes the stage with a spectator and performs a pickpocket act. This act uses a sponge ball routine as a premise and Michael proceeds to picks the pockets of the spectator including his tie. Compared to the first show, this version of his act was shortened greatly and less “abusive” (for lack of a better word) to the spectator on stage. We know the reason for the change as Ning & I were present outside the theatre at another show earlier in the run to witness an “incident”. This act was also previously presented as the penultimate act of the show but was shifted subsequently, a right move to make.

Brett presented Andre Kole’s “Jet Turbine Engine” illusion next. I personally love the massiveness of this illusion but his presentation is not a favourite of mine.

Philip took the stage for the second time and performed his Chair Test routine. It was entertaining once again and the plot is straightforward and got a solid reaction from the audience.

Brett returned to show us his fascination of levitating objects. This time he did his naked Zombie with a large silver ball. Then the silver ball opened up to form a large cloth that was used to make a levitating girl appear in mid air. The famed “Brett Daniels Levitation” is a very good levitation but I fear may feel “standard” to an audience. Nevertheless, it was well presented this show and is a great visual as seen in the photos.

Dan took the stage for the last time but it was the first time he spoke. His “disturbing Marilyn Mason meets Tim Burton-feel” image is amplified in the way he speaks. It is a great character, very creepy entertaining. Of course, I suspect, no one would wants to be the person on stage with him. He performed his version of Scott Alexander’s “Shattered” routine. It was quite a long piece but worked because of his character and the terrified woman on stage.

The show’s finale is the “Motorcycle Transposition” performed by Brett. It started with the appearance of a girl in a motorcycle exhaust-themed crystal box illusion. Brett and the girl then sit on a Harley that is hoisted up in the air high above the stage. The cage, the bike is in, opens to reveal the vanish and Brett reappears with the Harley from a stage right door off stage, in front of the audience.

It is technically a strong visual illusion to close the show due to the scale and raising of the Harley in the air but I think the constraints of the venue affected the smoothness and effectiveness of the illusion. Also, in the middle of the act, dancers flock to the lead guitarist of the band who suddenly pulls focus from the stage with a random guitar solo. You can see it in the photo below. This did not add to the illusion but in fact detracted from it.

The show ended with the entire cast back on stage for the curtain call. In both shows I went to, some parts of the audience gave the show a standing ovation. I think most enjoyed the show but know many felt it was a bit long.

I think if they took out some of the filler materials, took out the intermission and produced the show as a tight 90-minutes, it would be perfect. However, I’m sure the producers had a time commitment to fulfill and I have no doubt the Sydney run with the original 7-member cast was a very strong show. Ning & I are also privy to quite a bit of the backstage issues with the show (as with any show) plus we personally know how challenging it is to put up a show of this scale.

After the show, Ning, Ade & I were invited backstage and met up with the cast and MBS backstage crew. We had spent time with all the illusionists over the 3 weeks that they were here, whether it was over meals or drinks.

Congrats to the show for an awesome run and I hope their plans to continue the run in other countries continue. Although, at this point, the cast have all returned to their home countries.


About J C Sum

International Headline Entertainer, Content Creator and Investor
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