Magic Goes Wrong

Reviewer's rating

Magic Goes Wrong is a joyfully dark show that mixes magic and clowning to deliver one failed act after another. The characters are great fun, and the plot is along for the ride.

The Mischief Theatre and Penn & Teller-created show tells the story of Sophisticato’s (played by Henry Shields) charity fundraiser for magic disasters in honor of his late father, who never wanted him touching any of his magic tricks. A rotating set of acts includes the Mind Mangler (Henry Lewis)—a mind reader who doesn’t get much right—The Blade (Dave Hearn)—a tough guy who takes increasing damage as the show goes on—and the Spitzmaus (Bryony Corrigan) and Bär (Nancy Zamit) duo of a contortionist and her foil. Also included is a teleprompter-operator who gets the cast to make innuendo, and Mickey (Jonathan Sayer), who takes most of the audience participation opportunities.

The acts are hilarious, albeit sometimes concerning, as many of the dangerous illusions look remarkably believable. It comes in good fun as language barriers, miscoordination, absent-mindedness, and more make dicey magic tricks go terribly, hysterically wrong. Through it all, whether accidentally sawing a person in half when trying to show the audience how the trick works, or releasing a bear in the theatre, being rained on by dead doves, or various attempts at mind reading, the cast holds onto a naïve hope that things will work out for them.

I must acknowledge how much I admire the craftmanship. Though the magic acts go wrong, it seems like some of them might take as much if not more ingenuity to get wrong than to get right. And yet, to purposefully get the acts wrong puts the characters in a very humbling position. After a while we expect them to fail, but we root for them all the same. My favorite message I got from the show is its acceptance of and ability to carry on from failure.

Story-wise, Magic Goes Wrong casts a moral about friendship that makes the characters seem to pity each other enough to stick together in a way that’s both friendship-affirming and concerning, because it may be that these characters are better off as far from each other as possible. Thankfully for us, they chuck self-interest out the door and give themselves up for the cause, in an exciting display of commitment and hope through to the end.