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Photo of Jonathan Goodwill, the Daredevil in Illusionists

The Illusionists Magic of the Holidays: A Daredevil, a Manipulator, a Showman, a Trickster and more take over Heinz Hall

Thu, Dec 19, 2019

Written by: Sharon Eberson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Sure, there’s magic in the air this time of year everywhere you go. And in the Downtown Cultural District, there’s magic all year-round. But during Christmas week, that feeling will explode on a scale barely contained by the confines of Heinz Hall.

The Illusionists - Magic of the Holidays brings a group of the world’s top magicians and daredevils to town for a show sprinkled with Christmas spirit. Starting Dec. 26 and lasting through the 29th, the ho-ho-ho season gives way to “How’d he do that?!” and “Oh no, he didn’t …!”

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust has already put out the red carpet for magicians this season with its newest venue. At a mere 70 seats and a stage within a few steps of every patron, Liberty Magic allows for an up-close experience for one and all, with the possibility of a VIP key to more tricks of the trade backstage.

At Heinz Hall, which holds more than 2,600 seats, the scale, theatrics and thrills are pumped up to wow patrons even in the far reaches of the concert space.

Bringing the danger to The Illusionists in the show is Jonathan Goodwin, known as The Daredevil and for death-defying stunts that carried him to the finals of Britain’s Got Talent. The native of Wales, who also has been billed as Dangerman and The Escapologist, is not a magician, as becomes clear if you check out his stunts on TV series including One Way Out for Discovery Channel and Dangerman: The Incredible Mr. Goodwin for the BBC.

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Goodwin will be channeling his hero, Harry Houdini, in his big stunt -- and hoping for a different outcome than befell his hero in 1915. He didn’t want to get too specific in a recent phone interview, but really, it’s online for all to see.

“It’s a magic show, so part of the joy is the surprise,” he said, cagey at first, then relenting a bit. “But my part of the show is the biggest thing I’ve ever presented on a stage and has also never been performed before on a stage. It is the one stunt that Houdini never managed to do, so that’s what we are bringing to the show in Pittsburgh.

“It is a stage version of Buried Alive. It doesn’t seem very Christmasy, I grant you, but when Houdini first tried it, in 1915, he had to be rescued. And it was this time of year, in December, just before the holidays. It’s hard for me to connect what I do to the festive period, they don’t really go well together. But because of the timing, we decided to do it.”

Goodwin, well-known from television and large-scale stunts in the United Kingdom, is a veteran of The Illusionists on Broadway and on tour. The shows that travel the world often are subject to a rotating roster and a wide variety to the acts. Part of the Magic of the Holidays appeal, says Goodwin, is that this is “the most collaborative” group with which he has performed.

The guy whose trade is some of the most dangerous stunts the world has ever seen is enjoying the camaraderie as he comes to Pittsburgh.

“The things I do are not magic tricks; the other guys take care of that stuff admirably and they all have different skills,” Goodwin says.

Here’s what “the other guys” are known for:

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Valentin Azema: The Elusive

A recent addition to The Illusionists on tours of Kazakhstan and Europe, the native of France has performed his acts in English, French and Spanish. Azema has been known to move things around in unexpected ways, and explain what he is doing as he’s doing it -- and still blow your mind as the trick unfolds.

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Darren “Dizzy” Partridge: The Trickster

Also billed as Dizzy the Clown when he is not an “Illusionist,” he describes himself as “break dancer, martial artist and theater enthusiast.” From London’s West End to the Sydney Opera House to luxury cruise lines, this cirque performer and physical comedian “with mischievous British charm” has been featured as both The Trickster and The Showman in “Illusionists” touring shows. He gives a master class in silent physical comedy in this video demo.

Sos & Victoria: The Transformationalists

The quick-change artists are dressed (and dressed again and again) to impress. They are known for their modern interpretation of traditional performance art, which combines fashion, stagecraft and sleight-of-hand. “We are different from all other quick-change artists because we design all the costumes ourselves,” Sos said on America’s Got Talent.

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Florian Sainvet: The Manipulator

The French-born Sainvet (above) was inspired by science-fiction films to become a “futuristic” illusionist. His half-man, half-robot act took him to third place in France’s Got Talent and a win at the World Championship of Magic in Manipulation at FISM (The International Federation of Magic Societies) 2018 in South Korea. See his award-winning act -- and watch him walk on air -- here.

Steve Valentine: The Showman

Among dozens of acting roles, the native of Scotland was featured on the NBC drama Crossing Jordan as Nigel and played Derek in Disney’s I’m in the Band. As an award-winning magician, he has been a Las Vegas headliner and launched the online training center “Magic on the Go.” He demonstrates some of his close-up tricks in the magic/music video Strangely Attractive.  (Trivia: Which Tony winner played Crossing Jordan star Jill Hennessey’s father on the series? Hint: a Founding Fathers musical that’s not Hamilton.)

Stuart MacLeod: The Dilusionist

The BAFTA (Emmy/Oscar equivalent) nominee out of Scotland has more than 100 million views on YouTube, is executive producer on Netflix’s Magic for Humans and Goodwin’s Dangerman, and has been the expert judge on CBS’s The World’s Best. As half of the UK double act Barry and Stuart, the duo is known for a “comically dark performing style and unique brand of twisted magic.” For a sample, including some magician-on-the-street trickery, visit https://www.stuartmac.com/.

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Sharon Eberson is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette theater critic.
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