Is Broadway the Right Venue for Magic Shows?
Charles Isherwood of the New York Times would say, “No!” When The Illusionists: Live on Broadway opened to press reviews, this respected theatre critic published a fair but critical assessment of the feats performed by seven magicians under the umbrella of The Illusionists. This is the second time a show called The Illusionists came to Broadway; the first was only last year, also over the holiday season. That show, dubbed The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible, was not a complete failure, making a total of $8,157,068 over the course of its limited six week engagement. That amount accounted for 74.99% of its gross potential over the six weeks, and the numbers were also steadily increasing. In the last week of its run, the earlier incarnation of The Illusionists brought in an astonishing $2,217,405, representing 91.17% of its gross potential at the Marquis Theatre. This year, The Illusionists: Live on Broadway brings back several of the same magicians – including Yu Ho-Jin (The Manipulator), Jeff Hobson (The Trickster), Dan Sperry (The Anti-Conjurer), and Adam Trent (The Futurist), along with three new additions: Jonathan Goodwin (The Daredevil), James More (The Deceptionist), and Raymond Crowe (The Unusualist).
The major critiques given to this production are that there is an overproduced attempt to enhance the magic through big resounding music, slinky intimidating assistants, laser beams, and digital video screens. Whereas some of the magic tricks were indeed impressive, it was distracting to see them on the digital screen blown up behind them, as magic is much more affecting when seen live. It is a bit ironic to attend a live magic show, and then merely watch the tricks performed on a large screen. Meanwhile, the magic was thought interesting enough for the screen by one major network: NBC. On December 9, 2015, The Illusionists was presented as a one-hour special on NBC, to raise audience awareness of the Broadway show and share the magic tricks with a larger audience. The spectacular is not a live airing of the Broadway show, but rather was filmed specially for this television event at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles. Produced by John Irwin and Simon Painter, the NBC special featured the four magicians who have returned to Broadway this season, as well as Kevin James (The Inventor), Andrew Basso (The Escapologist) from last season, and Jonathan Goodwin (The Daredevil) who has made his Broadway debut this year.
Much More Modest Box Office This Season
Whereas The Illusionists: Witness the Impossible did very well at the box office by the end of its run last year, this year’s incarnation of The Illusionists: Live on Broadway is not faring so extraordinarily. In the last reported week of box office figures, the week ending December 6, 2015, The Illusionists brought in $657,334, representing 52.76% of its gross potential. With a top ticket price of $250.00, the average paid admission was $96.14, and the average audience capacity this past week was 61.8% at the Neil Simon Theatre. This week is the best the show has performed in the three weeks of its run thus far, although the second week (the week ending November 29, 2015) had an overall higher gross of $816,110 due to an added two performances, bringing the total performances that week to 10. While a magic show may not be quite as demanding as a traditional Broadway show, it is still very impressive that the performers were able to give 10 shows in one week. Nevertheless, the box office is still only middling, and it may go to show that Broadway audiences need more than a year to rev up their appetite for another magic show.