Culture / Entertainment

A Magic Show Worthy of Our Video Game and Instagram Times

Illusionist Dream Team Makes Champions of Magic a Fun, Big-Time Romp

BY // 06.29.18

Some magicians take themselves way too seriously (and not just Arrested Development‘s Gob), but that’s not an issue at Champions of Magic, the rollicking, action-packed show that’s running at the Hobby Center over the weekend. This touring band of illusionists knows magic needs to be fun to have any real chance of surviving in a video game and Instagram world.

Indeed, one of the best moments of Thursday night’s opener comes impromptu when illusionist Sam Strange  cannot get an inflatable life vest off. This sends Strange and his partner magician Richard Young into authentic hysterics on stage. It turns out that if you ever have to pull the cord to blow up one of those airplane life vests, you may need a crowbar to help pry it off your neck.

Of course, the fact the Strange and Young made a sailboat seemingly appear out of nowhere moments before makes life vest gate much more funny. It turns out even the pros of the pros can’t always anticipate quite everything in magic. Champions of Magic has fun with that — and almost everything else.

Strange also manages to turn a simple red light, green light bit (fake finger tips that light up red and green) into a running gag that never misses. My 10-year-old was all in on plunking down $20 to buy his own Red Light, Green Light after the show.

And Champions of Magic is certainly a show. Including the 15-minute intermission, it’s nearly a two and a half hour night at the theater. These magic makers certainly give everyone their money’s worth.

Drescher’s facial expressions alone are more entertaining than some Broadway shows. This is someone who knows how to sell a trick — and a moment.

FERN FREEMAN

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There is nothing small time or held back with this production. There are big stage bits worthy of the Hobby’s massive starry theater (20-year-old Mexican-American escape artist Fernando Velasco scores big with his straightjacketed Jaws of Death escape when he gets out just before the crushing snap, while his handcuffed upside down Houdini Water Torture Chamber trick loses much of its drama when a curtain is placed over the whole glass tube, blocking the audience from seeing how he gets out). There is audible disappointment in the seats around me when that curtain goes down.

As with any show, some acts impress more than others. Young & Strange’s faux Las Vegas magic show homage finale certainly redeems the big stage bits. The sad and annoyed looking guy in a tiger suit and an aerialist who isn’t just a girl in a box (Rachael Kean), even if she does one girl in the box trick, add an extra touch to this Vegas parody/impressive trick spree combo.

Still, close-up magician Kayla Drescher almost steals the show with her antics involving the five of hearts, rubber band escapes and a love story gone bad. Drescher’s facial expressions alone are more entertaining than some Broadway shows. This is someone who knows how to sell a trick — and a moment.

Mind reader Alex McAleer brings more humor and plenty of audience participation (he turns an attractive, well dressed woman named Celine into a near star on this night). I guessed the secret word (Astros) he revealed on stage from the moment he started setting up the trick at the end of the first act — there could not be a more predictable word to go with in Houston at the moment — but it still proved to be a crowd pleaser.

A Young & Strange Future

If there is a Champion of Magic, it’s definitely Sam Strange though. While Strange made a joke of that premise, deploying a crown to great effect, he and Young seem like sure future standalone headliners. Childhood buddies from Oxford, England, Strange and Young know how to play off of each other and the audience. When they make it snow near the end of the show, it’s a surprisingly near touching moment.

The love’s real in this magic act. Better yet, the 21st-century-worthy entertainment is too.

I went to the opener with my 10 and 12-year-old sons and two twentysomething young professionals and I’m not sure which twosome enjoyed it more. Now, that’s magic.

Champions of Magic has shows Friday night at 7:30, Saturday at 2 pm and 7:30; and Sunday at 1 pm and 6 pm. For ticket info, click here.

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