On Stage: thrill to ‘The Illusionists’

Also: Midge Ure, Above & Beyond, The Mavericks and more 

By Denny Dyroff, Staff Writer, The Times 


The Illusionists — Witness the Impossible will have a six day run at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.

There are magicians everywhere and magic shows pop up on entertainment calendars on a regular basis. But, it’s safe to say that they all pale in comparison to “The Illusionists — Witness the Impossible.”

The show, which has smashed box office records around the world, amazed audiences with a powerful mix of the most outrageous and astonishing acts ever to be seen on stage.

“The Illusionists — Witness the Impossible” will have a six-day run from February 24-March 1 at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, 215-731-3333, www.kimmelcenter.org). The show is part of Broadway Philadelphia, which is presented by the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts and the Shubert Organization.

This non-stop show, fresh from a Broadway run, is packed with thrilling and sophisticated magic of unprecedented proportions. Audiences will witness awe-inspiring acts of grand illusion, levitation, mind-reading, disappearance and, for the first time ever in history, a full view water torture escape.

Escapologist Andrew Basso replicates the great Harry Houdini’s trademark acts by escaping upside-down while immersed in a locked tank of cold water. He is the only person in the world to perform Houdini’s famous Water Torture Cell with absolutely no covers.

Basso, Italy’s star escape artist, considers Houdini his hero and is fast becoming one of the world’s most popular illusionists. In this show, Basso also replicates Houdini’s straight-jacket escape trick.

“This is our first big tour of the United States,” said Basso, during a phone interview last week. “Philadelphia is one of our first dates after Broadway. We first started the tour at the Sydney Opoera House in Australia in 2012.”

The show ran on Broadway from November 12, 2014 until January 4, 2015. The National Tour kicked off in Schenectady, New York this week.

Basso was born in Trento, Italy in 1985. He developed an interest in performing at a very early age.

“When I was a little kid in a little town in northern Italy, I saw a circus and wanted to do it in the future,” said Basso. “Then, I saw a magician. I couldn’t figure out how he did what he was doing and it intrigued me. At that moment, I felt the power of magic.

“I thought — if a magician can do it, so can I. I looked around for books and was reading a lot about magic.  I got my first magic set at age 12. Then, I met a magician named Sergio who gave me lessons.”

That encounter was the start of something great.

“Sergio is still a good friend of mine,” said Basso. “He taught me the principles of magic. He also taught me about creating relationships with the audience. It’s not only what you do but also how you do it. Onstage, you have to learn how to exchange with audiences. Cards were the first weapons I had in my hand.

“Then, he taught me all areas of escapology because it was too dangerous to try to learn on my own. I started escapology when I was 13. I was looking for something mischievous. I escaped a jail in Italy. I escaped a hanging and escaped from the vault of a bank. They all were dangerous escapes.”

Eventually, Basso’s path led to Houdini’s Water Torture Cell.

“With this touring show, the feature piece is the water,” said Basso. “I’m the first in history to do it in full view. A lot of people have died trying to do this — 18 people drowned in the last 100 years.

“I practiced for a year learning to hold my breath. I have a trainer. It’s a very physical act. My feet are shackled and my hands are placed in handcuffs. Then, I’m submerged head first into a tank of water. I have to escape using a bobby pin to unlock the handcuffs. Then, I have to get my feet free from the shackles and pick another lock with the bobby pin.”

Basso has to meditate and use yoga methods in the time before he goes onstage for the water act.

“Part of it is being in control of your heartbeat,” said Basso. “In the dressing room, I go in another planet with my head. I work on my breathing and I slowdown my heartbeat. But, when I’m in the water, it’s difficult to block out the audience.

“The first time I tried it in front of an audience, I had to stop because of the adrenalin. Eventually, familiarity with the situation brought the adrenalin down. It’s all about the mental aspect. I just think I’m with a friend.”

Actually, the act requires a lot both mentally and physically.

“When I’m training in the pool, I can hold my breath for over six minutes if I’m not moving,” said Basso. “With handcuffs on in cold water, it goes down to about two-and-one-half minutes. Also, there is a lot of intensity with having to twist my ankles to the limit of dislocation.

“Houdini was the father of it. He did the upside-down straight jacket in record time. I take inspiration from what he did 100 years ago.

“I remember the first time I did the straight jacket. I had my father timing it. After two-and-a-half hours, I called him to take me out. I remember the feeling of incapacity. It motivated me to practice and practice. Now, I feel like I’m born to escape.”

The show’s other acts are The Manipulator — Yu Ho-Jin, The Anti-Conjuror — Dan Sperry, The Trickster — Jeff Hobson,  The Inventor — Kevin James, The Warrior — Aaron Crow and The Futurist — Adam Trent.

Video for “The Illusionists” show — http://www.theillusionistslive.com/videos.


Above & Beyond

Performances are February 24-26 at 7:30 p.m.; February 25 at 8 p.m.; February 26 at 2 and 8 p.m.; and March 1 at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Tickets range in price from $20-$105.50.

Westminster, a borough of London (England), is known world-wide for a number of things including Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, Hyde Park and 10 Downing Street.

It is also home to Westminster Cathedral, which was the title of a song by the New Vaudeville Band that was a Number One hit in 1966. In the song, which was considered to be a novelty song, the protagonist blames the cathedral for not ringing its bell when his girlfriend packed up and left town.

Westminster’s latest contribution to the world of rock music is much more musically solid — and much more interesting.  The University of Westminster is where the founding members of Above & Beyond met and began their musical career together.

Above & Beyond , which is one of the more melodic groups in the world of electronic music, will visit the area on February 21 for a show at the Susquehanna Bank Center (Waterfront Drive, Camden, New Jersey, 856-365-1300, http://www.susquehannabankcenter.org)

The trio features Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness and Paavo Siljamäki. The three are also owners of electronic dance music labels Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep, and the hosts of a weekly radio show in England.  Above & Beyond has been consistently ranked among DJ Magazine’s Top 100 DJs Poll since 2008.

“I graduated from Sibelius-lukio, a music high school in Helsinki and moved to England to study the music business,” said Siljamäki, during a recent phone interview from his home in London. “I was making music in Finland already but it was commercial pop music and that wasn’t my thing.

“So, I went to the University of Westminster to study music business. That’s where I met Jono. Starting a record label was part of the studies. I was also making music — U.K. garage music. The major thing was finding out how the music industry works. That’s where Anjunabeats started.”

In 1999, Graham and Siljamäki released their first single “Volume One” under the alias Anjunabeats. They also started to release music under different names, including “Dirt Devils” and “Free State.” A little while later, McGuinness came on board to complete the trio.

“What I’ve realized after 18 years in the business is that the music business changes all the time,” said Siljamäki. “The core of it all is great songs — music that really connects. How do you make a song that really connects? I’ll be chasing that answer until the day I die.

“We asked ourselves — how do we write music that stands the test of time — 25 years or more? The Beatles were in front of the movement in the 1960s. These days, it’s deejays. There are 200-300 deejays and deejay groups that came down from the thousands.

“I’m also a consumer of music like everybody else. Every once in awhile, a song hits me and something happens. I attach a piece of my life with that music and it’s with me for the rest of my life. I want to be able to do that with our music. The world is moving fast but people are still people and emotions are there.”

Above & Beyond have already accomplished a lot.

The trio’s song “No One On Earth,” featuring the vocals of Zoë Johnston was voted “Tune of the Year” for 2004 in Armin van Buuren’s trance radio show “A State of Trance.” Above & Beyond received similar honors in 2005 for “Air for Life” and 2006 for “Good for Me.”

In 2009, Above & Beyond performed at the official launch of Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. The event took place in the Mojave Desert and was hosted by Sir Richard Branson. The performance was secured after the trio’s Buzz Aldrin-sampling club track “Buzz” was picked by Virgin to soundtrack the unveiling of the spaceship itself.

On their current tour, over half the shows are sold out. Fortunately, tickets are still available for the area show this weekend.

The trio has released five albums — “Tri-State” (2006), “Sirens of the Sea” (2008), “Group Therapy” (2011), “Acoustic” (2014) and “We Are All We Need (January 2015).

“The purpose of an album — it allows musicians to write many different kinds of things,” said Siljamäki. “With us, we look at albums and concentrate on writing good songs. It gives us a lot of freedom to write a lot of different kinds of things that complement each other. There is really a reason for them to exist — and we have a fan base that accepts them.

“EDM (electronic dance music) has become ‘the’ party music. The main genres — hip-hop, R&B, house — that’s where we started. Now, there are a lot of people trying to write commercial electronic music for top hits. Are people going to get into more underground forms of dance music?

“Some of our music is more commercial and some is more underground. Fortunately, we don’t have to focus very much on the charts. I’d love to think that our popularity is because of the songs. We’ve tried to write songs about real things — songs that connect with people.

“We started as mixers. Our whole thing is focused on how do you make a great song better. I feel like the sonic things move on but the great songs are always great songs. Our songs have endured. In our live show now, we do about 40 per cent old, 40 per cent new and 20 per cent other things from our record label.”

ure 2

Midge Ure

The concert, which has a 9 p.m. starting time, also features opening acts Seven Lions and Lane 8. Tickets are $30.

Midge Ure has always had mates with him whenever he performed. Now, the veteran musician from Scotland, is going the solo route. On February 24, he will bring his “Fragile Troubador” show to the World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, 215-222-1400, philly.worldcafelive.com).

You know Ure’s music even if you fail to recognize his name.

“Do They Know It’s Christmas?” is a song he co-wrote with Bob Geldof and presented to the world as Band Aid. Ure co-organized Band Aid, Live Aid and Live 8 with Geldof. He also serves as ambassador for Save the Children.

Ure’s musical resume includes “Breathe,” which in 1996 became the soundtrack of a massive European “Swatch” campaign. He was introduced to the public as the vocalist for the British hit-making band Ultravox. His list of former bands also includes Slik, the Rich Kids, Thin Lizzy and Visage.

“Forever And Ever” was a big hit for Slik, while the Rich Kids was a band put together by ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock. Ure was the singer on such Ultravox hits as “Reap the Wild Wind”, “Dancing With Tears in My Eyes” and the timeless classic “Vienna.”

One of Ure’s most recent projects has been recording and performing live shows with Ultravox, a band that had an acrimonious breakup in 1985 and an amicable make-up in 2009. The classic Ultravox lineup released an album titled “Brilliant” in May 2012. Late last year, Ure released a new solo album titled “Fragile.”

“Band Aid 30 came along and rattled our cages,” said Ure, during a recent phone interview from his home in Bath, England.

Band Aid 30 is the 2014 of Band Aid. The group was announced in November 2014 by Geldof and Ure. Geldof stated that he took the step after the United Nations had contacted him because help was urgently needed to prevent the Ebola crisis in Western Africa spreading throughout the world.

The new version of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” was recorded by some of the biggest-selling current British and Irish pop acts, including One Direction, Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, Emeli Sandé, Ellie Goulding, Rita Ora and Bastille — along with veteran singers Chris Martin (Coldplay) and Bono (U2).

As a solo artist, Ure’s last album of original music was”Move Me,” which was released on Curb Records in 2001.

“After such a long time, I wasn’t sure if anyone wanted another Midge Ure album,” he said. “It had been 12 years since my last album of original material After doing the Ultravox album three years ago, that inspired me to put my act together. I fueled myself up again. I gathered my ideas and completed them.

“I recorded the entire album at home where I have a Mac-based studio. I did all the instruments and was the engineer and producer. Then, I mixed it myself. I was very pleased with the whole process of doing it.”

Prior to the release of the album, Ure toured America last summer with the Retro Futura Tour 2014 — a tour that touched down at the Keswick Theater in Glenside in August. The headline acts were Howard Jones, the Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey, Katrina (from Katrina and the Waves) and Ure.

“The Retro Futura tour went well,” said Ure. There were some highs and some middling points. It was fun. We all got on very well and the reaction to the shows was very good. It was during that tour that I decided to come out and do this tour. I wanted to tell people about ‘Fragile.’

“This is a proper tour with close to 30 gigs. I’m out telling people about the album. It makes perfect sense to be out here doing this. And, doing it solo was always how I wanted to do it.

“This time, I decided to do it totally alone. I set up the shows, booked the hotels, rented the cars — all of it. It’s just me — all by myself. I have my guitar, my suitcase and a bagful of merchandise. I’m making a documentary about it — talking through the entire process.

“On this tour, the majority of songs I’m playing are from ‘Fragile.’ I’ll also be doing some songs from older albums along with a few Ultravox songs such as ‘Vienna.’ I’ll also be playing ‘Homeland,’ a song I wrote for Thin Lizzy.”

Ure’s solo concert at the World Café Live will start at 8 p.m. Tickets for the all-ages show are $25.

Other upcoming shows at the venue are Kindred the Family Soul (February 19), Johnny Goodtime and York Street Hustle (February 21), Big Head Todd and the Monsters (February 22) and Bettye Levette (February 25).

World Café Live at the Queen (500 North Market Street, Wilmington, 302- 994-1400, www.queen.worldcafelive.com) will feature the Stanley Clarke Band on February 23 and The Pink Floyd Experience on February 24 on its Downstairs Stage.

The schedule for the Upstairs Stage includes the New York Funk Exchange (February 19); Bails, Chelsea Rae, Elspeth Tremblay, Jessica Graae, Paddy Corcoran and Ross Bellenoit (February 20) and The Sermon (February 25).

kategory 5 at flash

Kategory 5

The Flash (102 Sycamore Alley, Kennett Square, 484-732-8295, http://www.kennettflash.org) will host Kategory 5 on February 20and Big Jangleon February 21.

Kategory 5 features veteran musicians Kat Pigliacampi (lead vocals, keyboards), Al Mullins (drums, vocals), Andy Logue (lead guitar, vocals), Chris Lewis (guitar), Kyle Frederick (bass guitar) and John Cassidy (synthesizer).

“All of us have played music in the area for decades,” said Pigliacampi, during a recent phone interview from her home in Unionville. “We have a big fan base from our solo work. We’re all in our 40s and 50s and wanted to do the music we loved.

“We took 70s and 80s songs that aren’t necessarily mainstream and brought them back to life.  We’re playing classic rock with an edge. Our goal is to play a really good mixture of nostalgia. We are all good singers so we have a lot of four-part and five-part harmonies.”

The Steel City Coffee House (203 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, 610-933-4043, www.steelcitycoffeehouse.com) will host Dave Karaban along with Boog & Blanko Dave (February 20), Rob Dickenson Band (February 21), Phoenixville Psychedelic Society (February 22) and Better Than Bacon (February 25).

The schedule for Chaplin’s (66 North Main Street, Spring City, 610-792-4110, http://chaplinslive.com) includes Breaking Falls, Eye 4 an Eye, Cortana, and Loss of Effect (February 20) and Nathan Earl & Rachel Joy, Euonia, Pompton Lakes, and Aaron David & the Wise Owls (February 21).

Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse (204 South Newtown Street Road, Newtown Square, 484-427-4547, www.burlapandbean.com) will present a “Tom Waits Tribute Night” (February 19),  The Lovely Andys and Moon Palace (February 20) and Vinegar Creek Constituency and Brad Hinton (February 21).

The Ardmore Music Hall (23 East Lancaster Avenue, Ardmore, 610-649-8389, www.ardmoremusic.com) will feature Pure Jerry (February 19), The Soul Rebels and The Nth Power (February 20), PhillyBloco (February 21), Jefferson Berry & the Urban Acoustic Coalition along with Stu & the Gurus (February 22) and Gaelic Storm (February 25).

Melodies Café (2 East Ardmore Avenue, Ardmore, 610-645-5269, www.melodiescafe.com) will host Joe Jack Talcum (The Dead Milkmen), Toy Cannons and Old Scratch (February 20), Justin Trawick and Liam Lynch (February 21) and Meridee Winters Songwriter’s Showcase (February 22).

The Grand Opera House (818 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 302-652-5577, www.thegrandwilmington.org) will have Guy Davis and Eric Bibb (February 20), Delaware Dance Festival (February 22) and The Chieftans (February 24).

the mavericks at keswick

The Mavericks

The Keswick Theater (291 N. Keswick Avenue, Glenside, 215-572-7650, www.keswicktheatre.com) presents The Mavericks on February 21.

The Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) will have Edwin McCain and  Ryan Hommel (February 19), Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives  along with Sam Lewis (February 20), Stringfever (February 21), A Night To Remember (Presley, Perkins, Lewis & Cash Tribute) at 3 and 8p.m. (February22) and The Circle Of The Song featuring Ed Jurdi from Band Of Heathens along with  Seth Walker and Edward David Anderson from Backyard Tire Fire (February 25).

Tellus 360 (24 East King Street, Lancaster, 717-393-1660, www.tellus360.com) will have

The Willie Marble Xperience Mardis Gras Party (February 19),DJ Edge and DJ Backdraft (February 20) and Lavacave (February 21).

Chameleon Club (223 North Water Street, Lancaster, 717-299-9684, http://www.chameleonclub.net) will host Motionless in White (February 20), The Mantras and ELM (February 21), Red, 3 Years Hollow and Souls Set Free (February 22) and Helmet (February 24).

The Candlelight Theater (2208 Millers Road, Arden, Delaware, 302- 475-2313, www.nctstage.org) will present the final performances of “The New Mel Books Musical Young Frankenstein” this weekend. The hilarious show is scheduled to run through February 22.

The Rainbow Dinner Theatre (3065 Lincoln Highway East, Paradise, 800-292-4301, www.RainbowDinnerTheatre.com) is presenting its new production “Squabbles” now through March 21.

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