The multi-story sign on the front of the State Street building that houses the Museum of Broadcast Communications tells you all you need to know about the new Jamie Allan’s Magic Immersive production that now resides on its 3rd and 4th floors. Like the sign, the show is slick, huge, modern, and expensive-looking, designed to attract the attention of visitors to the city. It is a magic show for tourists rather than purists, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have many world-class illusions on display to amaze and entertain you.
There are three tiers of admission. I went on a Saturday—peak time, the tickets say—and had a VIP admission (the most expensive level). With this admission, I was able to see not only the main show (in what is referred to as the “Illusionarium”) but also a shorter program of up-close Chicago-style magic performed deftly by Sean Watson. The illusions with cards, ropes, handkerchiefs, etc. were all executed perfectly—I could not detect how they were done although I was literally four feet from Watson—but the music! It was loud and gratuitous; he needed a mic in a very small space just to be heard over it. Someone needs to tell Magic Immersive that less is often more…but that maxim might actually go against their Prime Directive, which seems to be that everything bigger, bolder, and louder is automatically better. To be fair, they generally do bigger, bolder, louder very well. They also do magic very well. The fact that an illusion with wine bottles that I saw pre-pandemic as a finale at Chicago Magic Lounge was a throw-away trick in the pre-show here says a lot.
All tickets also allow patrons to wander the Hall of Mysteries, a largely underwhelming exhibit that highlights key moments in magical/illusionist history. The exhibit does include close-up viewing of some classic magical props and Houdini’s straitjacket, so there is that.
But the real entertainment is found in the hour-long show in the Illusionarium. This is a very high-tech production with lots of lighting, music, and TV screens to enhance the magic. The room has two main stages plus additional performance spaces amid the seating areas. (Most people stand, but seats are available if needed.) We are also treated to a video appearance by Penn and Teller, who walk us through an audience-participation illusion using cards that were handed out as we walked in. (It’s pretty cool.)
Among the illusions we see live are levitation (using an audience member) and the Bullet Catch (a cool trick that pales only a little bit when you’ve seen Teller do it with his mouth instead of his hand) with Edmond Clark, channeling “old school” magicians, a cool and fun piece done with iPads by Caitlin McKeon, and various magic boxes for an assistant (Molly Keczan) to enter and have things done to her. McKeon also introduces us to the Magic Drill, an enormous piece of equipment (she says it is the largest magic prop in the world) that “skewers” her. (For someone who has a giant drill go through her abdomen several times a day, McKeon is very much alive and clearly having a grand time.)
The grand finale here is Houdini’s water escape, this time handled by Mareesha Klups. Klups is immersed, chained and handcuffed, into a padlocked glass case filled with water from which she has to escape before running out of air. This is the kind of trick (involving no illusions at all, as we are told several times) that, no matter how many times you see it, never fails to impress.
Magic Immersive is a clever blend of technology, skill, and entertaining presentation that will certainly please the casual magic audience but also contains much to awe even those who are used to the world of illusion. It’s a shame that the omnipresent loud music and nonstop action don’t really afford easy opportunities for the magicians to receive applause—McKeon even paused after one impressive trick, openly asking for a response, but she shouldn’t have to do that. After sitting and standing at various times in the audience, I can attest that most of us were eager to applaud but cowed by the lack of natural times to do it. Bigger, bolder, louder is impressive, but it doesn’t always mean better.