On Stage: ‘The Illusionists’ comes to Wilmington

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By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times

The Illusionists

Magicians seem to be omnipresent and magic shows pop up on entertainment calendars on a regular basis. Some of the shows make you shake your head in amazement – not at the complexity of the act but rather that venues would even book the act.

There are some good shows featuring magic acts but it’s safe to say that they all pale in comparison to “The Illusionists – Live From Broadway.”

“The Illusionists – Live From Broadway” will have a three-day run from December 21-23 at the Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org).

The highly-entertaining show is produced by Simon Painter, Tim Lawson and MagicSpace Entertainment. Conceived by Simon Painter, the show’s creative team also includes executive producer Tim Lawson, director Neil Dorward and creative director Jim Millan.

Full of hilarious magic tricks, death-defying stunts and acts of breathtaking wonder, “The Illusionists” has shattered box office records worldwide and thrilled audiences of all ages with a mind-blowing spectacular showcasing the jaw-dropping talents of five of the most incredible illusionists on earth.

The tour cast features five acts, including “The Futurist” — Adam Trent shatters stereotypes and brings a new generation of magic to fans fusing technology illusions, dancing and comedy with classic techniques; “The Inventor” — Kevin James is known for innovative illusions, is an inventor, comedian and collector of the strange and unusual. James is one of the most prolific inventors of magic in the world and has created some of the most celebrated illusions of the last century; and “The Weapon Master” — Ben Blaque has established himself as America’s foremost master of the crossbow after appearing four times on America’s Got Talent. He performs incredibly dangerous acts of dexterity using highly powerful crossbows to shoot various objects supported by his assistant.

The roster also includes “The Manipulator” — Florian Sainvet began his career in magic at the age of sixteen, but it was while devouring his favorite science fiction films and universes at his beloved neighborhood cinema that he discovered his true calling as a futuristic manipulator and illusionist; and “The Escapist” — Krendl has passion and drive for entertaining which started at the early age of 10. By age 12 he was already performing regularly. From even his humble beginnings as a child performing magic, Krendl was fascinated with Houdini’s most infamous escapes.  The challenge of doing things, that are said to be impossible, has been the true heart and soul behind all of his work.

“The tour starts in mid-December and we finish the tour at the end of June,” said James, during a recent phone interview from his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. “I’m prepping all the props right now.  I have three new big things this time. The amount of numbers in the show varies.

“I’ll probably be on stage six times. “I’m always trying to get new things in the show. I get inspired by a lot of things – sometimes just walking through a hardware store.”

James became interested in the art of magic at a very early age. He remembers seeing his first magic performance and, more importantly, how it made him feel. He decided early on that performing magic for the world was going to be his life’s calling.

His style of performance is anything but conventional. His unique comedy and magic has gained him a reputation as a world-class visual artist. He has headlined in such venues as the famous Crazy Horse in Paris, and done Royal performances for the Prince of Monaco, Prince of Bahrain and the Sultan of Dubai. In Las Vegas he has headlined in almost every major casino. A few years ago, he did a command performance for President Obama at the White House.

“I’ll be doing my classics,” said James, is related to the legendary P.T. Barnum and has succeeded in keeping the tradition alive.

“I’ll be doing everything I did on the last tour – making it snow on the audience, operating with a chainsaw, floating a rose over the audience. And, I’ve got some new stuff I’m excited to try out.

“This show has a really good cast. The producers reduced it to five acts from seven. I think it’s going to be a better format.”

Video link for “The Illusionists – Live From Broadway” – https://youtu.be/SdSyTvP6z-A.

The show will be presented at the Grand at 7:30 p.m. on December 21, at 2 and 8 p.m. on December 22, and at 10 a.m., 2 and 8 p.m. on December 23. Tickets start at $40.

Jim Brickman

Jim Brickman’s music always has a warm, soothing quality. His current tour might just be his warmest, most familiar ever. It’s a holiday tour that includes both Christmas music and songs from his new album – which just happens to be a Christmas album.

“A Joyful Christmas” is the name of Brickman’s current tour. It is also the name of his new album, which was released a few weeks ago.

Brickman will bring his “A Joyful Christmas Tour” to the area for a show on December 22 at the Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com). It marks the 21st year Brickman has taken a holiday show on the road.

Brickman, a Grammy-Nominated artist, has also just released a holiday single. He and Grammy-Nominated artist John Ondrasik aka Five For Fighting have a special collaboration to send a message of thanks, love, and support to the troops this holiday season with the song, “Christmas Where You Are?”

The song is available across all digital platforms including iTunes as well as on the “A Joyful Christmas” album.

A percentage of the proceeds of the song will go to the Gary Sinise Foundation, which honors defenders, veterans, first responders, their families, and those in need by creating and supporting unique programs designed to entertain, educate, inspire, strengthen, and build communities as well as What Kind Of World Do You Want, an initiative Ondrasik created which raised more than $250,000 for five designated charities — Augie’s Quest, Autism Speaks, Fisher House Foundation, Save the Children and Operation Homefront.

“I do a lot of songwriting collaborations,” said Brickman, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Cleveland, Ohio. “I look for people I admire.

“John and I started to meet to write together and one of the times we talked about Christmas. I have a lot of Chroistmas songs but there has never been a patriotic Christmas song – a song for those who are far away from home.

“Many of the men and women in our military are really far from home. We just felt that making a song likre this was a really wonderful thuing to do.

“We’re seasoned enough to write a pop hit if we want to. But, if you’re an artist, you want to write something you care about.

“We got together back in June in L.A. at John’s home studio. We did a lot of work on it – play and record for an hour and then listen back. We cut it over a period of time in late summer. It came out in October and then I did a concert special that was a DVD and a CD.

According to Ondrasik, “The holidays can be an especially hard time for our troops and their families. ‘Christmas Where You Are’ is a thank you and reminder to soldiers that we are with them in heart and spirit, wherever they stand, in service and sacrifice to our nation. We hope that no matter where these brave men and women are stationed, the warmth and love of family transcends the miles. We want them to know that a grateful nation holds them close to our hearts.”

Brickman said, “We also got involved with the USO and ‘Operation Care Package.’  We did a couple USO shows and they meant a lot to us.”

Brickman is the best-selling solo pianist of our time earning 21 Number One albums and 32 Top 20 Radio Singles in the industry bible, “Billboard Magazine.” He’s garnered two Grammy nominations, gospel music’s Dove Award, two SESAC Songwriter of the Year Awards, and the Canadian Country Music Award. He also has a music scholarship at the prestigious Cleveland Institute of Music & is an ambassador of Roland piano products and passionate advocate for young musicians.  He’s written three best-selling books and is in the 20th season of hosting the popular radio show “The Jim Brickman Show.”

This year, Brickman has released three albums. In addition to the new holiday disc, he released “Wedding Songs” and “Soothe Vol. 3: Music for Peaceful Relaxation.”

“I didn’t really plan on releasing three albums this year – but I’m always writing,” said Brickman. “At this time in the music world, there are no regular album cycles. Fortunately, I have a vehicle to get the music to the people. In part, to get the music to the people, you have to play live shows.

“On this tour, because my holiday music has become popular, I can play my holiday hits. I play some of my regular songs, some of my holiday songs and some traditional Christmas songs. I’m a fan of the hymns and of songs such as ‘What Child Is This,’ ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,’ and ‘Do You Hear What I Hear.’ The show has a nice balance.”

Video link for Jim Brickman – https://youtu.be/tsvK1aGp8xo.

The show at the Keswick Theatre on December 22 will start at 7:30 p.m. Ticket prices start at $38.50.

Nicole Zell

Another show on December 22 will feature Chester County’s own Nicole Zell sharing the bill with the DuPont Brothers at Kennett Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org).

Zell is a multitalented musician – singer, songwriter, guitarist, keyboardist – who has a dual career going. She records and performs as a solo artist and also records and performs as part of the alternative pop trio Thrillchaser.

“With Thrillchaser, we just wrapped up the recording of our debut album,” said Zell, during a phone interview Tuesday afternoon from her home in Lower Merion.

“It’s our first full-length and it’s self-released. The title of the album is ‘A lot Like Love.’ We recorded it with Taylor Larson at Oceanic Recording Studio in Bethesda, Maryland. It will be released in February 2018.

“Right now, we’re getting ready for the release. We’ve been putting out singles and videos every month.”

Thrillchaser features Zell on guitar and vocals along with two musicians from Providence, Rhode Island – Rod Pires on vocals and Rob Lundy on bass and synthesizer.

“We met online three years ago through Facebook,” said Zell, who was born and raised in Honey Brook. “It was just kinda meant to be. They were looking for a female guitarist. I went to Rhode Island to meet them and we instantly connected.”

For Zell, pursuing a career in music was natural. Born into a musical family, she grew up singing, songwriting, and playing instruments from an early age. Since then, she has established a successful career for herself as a solo artist – as former guitarist for alternative rock band, American Wolves – and as guitarist/vocalist for Thrillchaser.

In late 2014, Zell released her EP, “Take Heart,” and followed in early 2016 with her single, “Heart Open Wide,” which premiered on Fuse TV. Since 2013, Zell has been a radio host for SoundStage on West Chester radio station WCHE 1520.

“For my original music, I’ve been recording in my home studio with Rod Pires,” said Zell. “It’s been very relaxed with no solid plans for an album release.

“I’m starting to get my feet wet. It takes me a long t time to develop what I’m doing. I have a little apartment outside Philly and we set up there and record using Logic.

“I haven’t released any solo stuff in years. ‘Heart Open Wide’ was my last single and that was a while ago. Next year, I’ll probably start releasing songs – single by single.

“In my live show this week, I’m just doing my originals – old stuff and new stuff. I got sick of playing acoustic guitar so now I’m playing electric guitar. Lately, I’ve forced myself to write in a different way – a more synth-based way.

“It’s an honor for me to open for the DuPont Brothers. I’ve opened for them before and they’re great. Since it’s a few days until Christmas, I’m going to play some holiday songs and then we’ll probably do some holiday songs together.”

Video link for Nicole Zell – https://youtu.be/fnwvORUowZ0.

The show at Kennett Flash, which also features the DuPont Brothers, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $

Other upcoming shows at Kennett Flash are Calabrese Performing Arts Youth Choirs on December 21, and Vinyl Artifacts and Blues Reincarnation Project on December 23.

A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play

The Resident Theatre Company (RTC) at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (236 North High Street, West Chester, http://www.rtcwc.org/a-christmas-carol.html) is presenting a special holiday show now through December 31 – a holiday show with a difference titled “A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play.”

Audiences will be in a theater in 2017 watching a stage production but they will feel like they are in the studio of a radio station back 70 years ago watching the live broadcast of a radio play. The cast from RTC will recreate what entertainment was like in an era before YouTube…before streaming on the internet…. even before television.

“A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play” is a play written by Kevin Connors that has been adapted for the stage by Joe Landry.

The Charles Dickens novella, which has become a holiday classic, comes to life as a live 1940s radio broadcast, complete with vintage commercials for fruitcake (extra-fancy), and the magic of live sound effects and musical underscoring. A handful of actors bring dozens of characters to the stage, as the familiar story unfolds — Three ghosts take Ebenezer Scrooge on a thrilling journey to teach him the true meaning of Christmas.

“This part of our first full season at Uptown,” said The Resident Theatre Company’s Director of Operations and Marketing Lance Knickerbocker during a phone interview earlier this week.

“Last year, we did one show – ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot.’  This year, we have a three-show series that stared with ‘Next to Normal’ back in the fall and also includes ‘Bullets Over Broadway’ that we’ll present in the spring of 2018.

“‘A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play’ has a cast of six. There is Scrooge, a sound effects engineer and four other actors. Together, they form a live radio production team from 1940.

“The show is set in the studio of radio station WBFR. It’s a full show. It’s 90 minutes without an intermission and the actors never leave the stage.”

The radio station WBFR in the show is a fictional one. In 1940, WBFR did not exist. Ironically, there now is a WBFR.

WBFR (89.5 FM) is a radio station licensed to serve Birmingham, Alabama. The station is owned by Family Stations and airs a religious radio format.  WBFR broadcasts the English version of programming from Family Radio Worldwide. The station was assigned the WBFR call letters by the FCC in 1987.

The radio station setting in “A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play” adds an extra layer of nostalgic interest to a story that mixes riches and poverty, greed and goodness, dire apparitions and joyful redemption. Dickens’ timeless piece has been in print continuously since Christmas 1843.

Audiences at Uptown will be privy to watching the story develop behind the scenes at the small-time radio station — just as old time radio plays were produced nearly a century ago.

When plays were aired on the radio – or weekly serials like “The Lone Ranger” or “Hopalong Cassidy” — announcers didn’t just read the story. Instead, a few actors played multiple roles and acted out the script with a variety of accents, costumes and creative sound effects in front of a live studio audience.

RTC’s new production of “A Christmas Carol” is a fresh, playful, joyful production for everyone over the age of five. Everyone in the audience at Uptown gets caught up in the action at every performance.

The RTC cast features Alex G. Kunz (Jake Laurents/Others), Mark Woodard (Freddie Filmore/Scrooge), Hanna Gaffney (Lana Sherwood/Others), Rajeer Alford (Harry Haywood/Others), Michaela Shuchman (Sally Applewhite/Others) and West Chester’s Tom Wang (Sound Effects Engineer).

“This is a play with music,” said Knickerbocker. “There are a half-dozen jingles and Christmas tunes such as ‘Harry Holiday’ and ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.’ It’s just a really fu, really nice Christmas show.”

“A Christmas Carol: A Live Radio Play” will be performed now through December 31 at Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center. Ticket prices range from $25-$53.

STOMP

The musical stage show “STOMP” has been playing to packed houses for nearly 25 years and its popularity is showing no signs of waning.

The energetic and highly-percussive show is coming back to Philadelphia from December 26-31 for an eight-show run at the Merriam Theater (250 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, 215-893-1999, www.kimmelcenter.org) as part of the Kimmel Center’s Broadway season.

The stage show “STOMP” has its origins in busking, a British custom that dates back hundreds of years and features street performers. The show’s creators Luke Cresswell and Steve McNicholas updated the tradition and created a theater piece that is very loud and very intense.

“STOMP” has been visiting the area for well over a decade-and-a-half but this time arrives with some new additions. Some sections of the show have been updated and restructured. And, the program features the addition of new routines utilizing unusual props.

The structure is always there but approximately 30 per cent of each performance is improvised. The cast of the national tour has the versatility — and the experience with the structure of the show — to keep it fresh and new for every performance.

“STOMP” is a wordless show featuring an eight-member cast with energy to burn — a cast that creates beautiful music and sly humor with found objects such as Zippo lighters, push brooms, wooden poles, hammer handles, garbage cans, inner tubes, matchboxes and even the kitchen sink. It is a journey through sound, a celebration of the everyday and a comic interplay of characters wordlessly communicating through dance and drum.

The eight cast characters are Ringo, Particle Man, Doctor Who, Cornish, Bin Bitch, Sarge and Potato Head. One of the two performers in the role of Potato Head is Steve Weiss.

Hailing from the Philadelphia area, Weiss now lives in Las Vegas and recently concluded a three-year run performing in the headline show “Recycled Percussion” on the Las Vegas strip. During the day he teaches fitness classes and loves eating well.

“About two years ago, I had just finished with Recycled Percussion,” said Weiss, during a phone interview Wednesday morning after a red-eye flight from Vegas.

“I went to New York to audition for ‘Stomp’ and made it to the final round. It was a week-long, very intense audition. I didn’t get the role. Earlier this year, they were doing more auditions.

“So, I called the casting department and said – do you remember me? They were surprised I hadn’t been hired. So, I came to the auditions at the final callback and then got offered the role a half-hour later. I joined the company four months ago.”

Weiss has a long background in percussion. He has drummed in bands since his teen years. Growing up in Broomall, he was a member of the marching band at Marple-Newtown High School and then later was a member of the drum line for Penn State’s Blue Band.

“STOMP” runs for just over an hour-and-a-half with no intermission. It features non-stop intensity, lot of movement and a whole lot of noise. To get an idea of what’s happening in the show, picture a group of athletic dancers acting like a group of young kids left unsupervised in a kitchen after drinking a 16-ounce glass of Jolt (a soda that pre-dated energy drinks and boasted “all the sugar and twice the caffeine”)

“There are a lot of noisy parts in ‘STOMP’ but there are also quiet numbers – like the one with matchbooks,” said Weiss. “Tghere are always subtle changes in the show. There is so much room for improvisation. No two shows are ever exactly alike.

“One of the newer pieces is ‘Trolley,’ which uses shopping carts. ‘Paint Cans’ is the most dangerous number. There are more cans in the air than people catching then – and the cans are real metal.

“My favorite number is ‘Paint Cans.’ I like the element of danger. There is no turning back once it starts. There is something Zen about it. It reminds me of the Bellagio fountains in Vegas.”

Video link for “STOMP” — https://youtu.be/UGK60qdptp8.

The show at the Merriam will run from December 26-31. Ticket prices start at $40.

Marcus King

Marcus King is a musician who likes to stay busy.

On December 27, The Marcus King Band will headline a show at the Theatre of the Living Arts (334 South Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1011, http://www.lnphilly.com).

The band – Marcus King ~ Guitar/Vocals; Jack Ryan ~ Drums; Stephen Campbell ~ Bass; Justin Johnson ~ Trumpet/Trombone/Background Vocals/Tambourine; Dean Mitchell ~ Saxophones; Deshawn Alexander ~ Organ/Keyboards — is touring in support of its new EP “Due North,” which was just released on Fantasy Records.

During a phone interview a few weeks ago from his home in Greenville, South Carolina, King said, “I’ve been in the studio in Memphis the last eight days. We’ve been recording at Royal Studio with Eric Krasno producing. This is going to be our third album.

“We’re going to be back in the studio early next year in Nashville. We’ll do one more session and then we’ll be ready to release the album. Eight tracks are done already.

“I do most of the writing on all our records – and I do some co-writing with Krasno. And, we’re doing a couple songs that he wrote on his own. He and I met a few years ago when we opened for the Eric Krasno Band. We’ve been working together for about a year.

“We worked on a lot of tunes when we were in Memphis. He’d have an idea and then I’d go in the lobby and write some verses. And, there were other songs that he had written already.”

More immediate is the new EP.

The digital-only EP consists of three songs the band recorded during their sessions at The Carriage House Studio in Stamford, Connecticut, for their sophomore album, “The Marcus King Band” (which was recorded with producer Warren Haynes), and a fourth live recording — an epic 15-minute medley of the band’s “Sharry Barry,” “Sliced Milk,” “25 Or 6 To 4,” “I’ll Stay,” “and “Gloomy Sunday.”

According to King, “The ‘Due North’ EP is a love note from the band of words we didn’t get to say — songs that are a big part of our live repertoire that we would like to share with everyone. Also included is a recording of the ‘Sharry Barry’ medley from Chicago last winter to give a taste of MKB recorded live.”

“The new EP was done at The Carriage House, which is a wonderful place. We all lived together in the apartment above the studio when we were making the record. And, having Warren Haynes producing was a wonderful experience.”

Recently, The Marcus King Band hosted their own music festival, The Marcus King Band Family Reunion, which took place on October 6 and 7 at Pisgah Brewing in Black Mountain, North Carolina and featured artists like Blackberry Smoke, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, David Shaw, and Muddy Magnolias.

Late last year, The Marcus King Band released its sophomore, self-titled album on Fantasy Records. This year, the band made their network television debut on CBS This Morning Saturday. Additionally, King made the cover of Guitar Player Magazine in August of 2017 as one of “10 Young Players Spreading The Gospel of Kick-Ass Guitar.”

“This tour we’re going on is just a four-date run,” said King. “It’s going to be an end-of-the-year tour for us. We’ve been on the road for the last two years so we’ve been taking a little down time the last two months – getting some breathing done.

“In our live show, we’re doing some songs from the albums but we’re playing mostly new material. In some cases, road testing is the best way to do it.”

Video link for the Marcus King Band – https://youtu.be/jvxoqNXJ9SM.

The show at the TLA, which has The National Reserve as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Video link for the Marcus King Band – https://youtu.be/jvxoqNXJ9SM.

The show at the TLA, which has The National Reserve as the opening act, will start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Another upcoming show at the TLA is “The White Panda: Winter is Here Tour” on December 26 featuring The White Panda, Cade, and Brandyn Burnette.

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Ben Arnold on December 22

The Colonial Theatre (Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610- 917-1228, www.thecolonialtheatre.com) will present Charlie Brown Jazz on December 21.

Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) will host Vocal Fusion and Alex Allegra on December 22.

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will present Tim Reynolds (Dave Matthews collaborator): Solo Acoustic, Christie Lenée, and Time Relapse on December 21; Badfish, a Tribute to Sublime, Kings & Comrades, and Suburban Sensi on December 22; Electron (Marc Brownstein & Aron Magner of The Disco Biscuits, Mike Greenfield of Lotus, Tom Hamilton), The Heavy Pets, and Eat Your Beats om December 23, and Splintered Sunlight on December 27.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will have Divine Hand Ensemble on December 21; The Stray Birds and

Kyle Swartzwelder on December 22; Real Diamond (Neil Diamond Tribute) on December 23; Raymond The Amish Comic and Michael Aronin on December 26; and Enter The Haggis on December 27.

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