‘Illusionists’ promises magical experience at Fox Theatre

Thanks to the astonishing sleight of hand of magician Jeff Hobson, laughter seems to involuntarily launch from my diaphragm.

The professional wizard, co-star of “The Illusionists — Live From Broadway,” continues to amaze by making coins disappear and reappear in his hands. At one point, Hobson slows down to a molasses pace for my own benefit. Still, he stumps me. Repeatedly.

This demo takes place in a near-empty Fox Theatre. No, Hobson hasn’t made an audience disappear. The internationally acclaimed performer simply came to town a bit early to promote his event, hoping to help crowds materialize during the show’s upcoming six-day stand in this very place. Hobson will be one of seven magicians practicing the art of presto in the touring version of the successful Broadway production, which also spawned a 2015 NBC TV special.

Each of the tour’s entertainers serves a particular purpose, showcasing their respective eye-widening specialty. Andrew Basso, an Italian-bred Houdini disciple who breaks out of transparent water-filled boxes, plays the part of the Escapologist. Others include Ben Blaque, the Weapon Master, who puts his assistant’s life in his own hands with edge-of-the-seat crossbow feats. Hobson serves as the Trickster, using his comedy magic to snatch unsuspecting audience members’ belongings right under their noses.

“I’m a thief,” Hobson said, “but I’m an honest thief. I take (things) and give it all back to them at the end of the show. And they didn’t even know it was gone.”

Hobson’s spellbinding skill didn’t just appear in a puff of smoke. Performing magic professionally since the 1970s, Hobson did his first magic show at age 11 in his family’s garage. A crowd of neighborhood kids showed up, forking over 10 cents apiece.

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Since then, according to Hobson, he’s performed approximately 23,000 shows from Arizona to Australia, including on stage, screen and in between. The magician’s handiwork actually floats. He created the Illusionarium, an interactive magic-themed restaurant on Norwegian Cruise Line’s ship the Getaway.

And Hobson keeps adding to his performance resume. After the Atlanta run (Sept. 27-Oct. 2), “The Illusionists — Live From Broadway” hits more than 40 additional cities well into 2017.

With seven entertainers sharing the spotlight, the question of egotistical magicians casting resentful spells on one another arises. Hobson said that’s far from reality. You won’t find resentment up anyone’s sleeves.

“We have fantastic camaraderie,” he revealed. “It gets to the point where we all just end up having a poker night together.”

Yeah, Hobson admits he could easily cheat at cards, but wouldn’t do that to his magical brethren. In fact, the respect runs so deep among them, they often watch each other from the wings. You won’t catch Hobson at his trickery, but you might catch him soaking up the card magic mastery of co-star Yu Ho-Jin.

“Magic is a sort of organic art, because the audience has a participation in it with their reactions and their assistance,” Hobson said. “So every show’s different. Sometimes we change up the show during the show, because people react differently, and live theater happens. It’s very cool, and we just love watching each other work.”

That audience response, Hobson said, provides the dangling carrot that keeps him hopping like an out-of-the-hat bunny across a decades-spanning career.

“I love to see people laughing and having a good time,” Hobson said. “That’s my juice. You want to make memories. Walt Disney said, ‘We’re in the business of making memories.’ That’s my thing, and that’s what all magicians want to do.”

Watching as Hobson performs another illusion in front of me, I know I won’t soon forget the remarkable experience. He tears a yellow thread into pieces, a popping sound emanating with each tug. In an instant, he reconnects the string.

Hobson gets the reaction he so craves as I giggle with appreciation. In the back of my mind, I wonder if my wallet still rests in my back pocket.

“Don’t worry,” Hobson reassured. “I’ve checked your belongings, and it’s really not worth it.”

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