It’s no illusion. Spain’s Antonio Díaz, who bills himself as an illusionist, has materialized at Broadway’s Ethel Barrymore Theatre under his other identifying moniker and the production’s title, El Mago Pop. After amassing a reputation as “the highest grossing European illusionist in the world and perennially Spain’s highest grossing performer across all art forms,” he’s on hand locally for just two weeks.
Although he’s already established himself stateside in Branson, Missouri with his Branson Magic Theater and with a pair of widely viewed Netflix shows (Magic for Humans, La Gran Ilusión), his Manhattan stay conforms to the decades-old illusion that as brief as a Great White Way residence might be, it guarantees that any individual or production succeeding in the exalted, yet limited acreage can now be considered a validated international commodity.
Therefore, the question instantly becomes: How successful is 37-year-old Antonio Díaz, who describes himself as a life-long David Copperfield devotee? The short answer is: He’s very successful. The longer answer is that, doing any number of card tricks (more about them later), his long suit is a boyish charm combined with an ostensible love for the illusions he creates. He also shows off a quick ad-lib wit, even more admirable in a fellow who says he’s only recently become comfortable speaking English.
Illusions are often joked about as accomplished through a combination of smoke and mirrors. During the maybe 80, maybe 85 minutes Díaz works his sleight of hand, there isn’t much, if any, smoke, but it’s a good bet that at least a few mirrors are involved. Perhaps, perhaps not they come into play when, in his biggest illusion, he reveals from seemingly nowhere a sizable helicopter. (Yes, musical lovers, a helicopter usually appears in Miss Saigon outings, but that one clearly whirrs in from behind the proscenium.)
Truth to tell, Díaz’s illusions panoply isn’t what could be dubbed breathtakingly original. Maybe figuring out how each one is accomplished remains elusive, mysterious, but many of them, no matter how varied, have been presented before. For instance, two transparent containers arrive. Someone is placed in one, another in the other. Curtains are raised, then lowered, and, presto chango!, the someones are reversed. Then, the curtains again raised and lowered, the individuals are back where they started. Ooh, ahhh!
Díaz, personable as he is, often likes to work small, which means he devotes his attention to vanishing and returning watches. At a different turn, he deals with an audience member’s driver’s license. Going on about not wanting to devote time to card tricks as too much of a cliché, he nevertheless devotes plenty of time to them.
At one point, he leaves the stage – something he does regularly – to stand by someone in an aisle seat and, after shuffling a deck like a Las Vegas poker maven, turns over one eye-popping card after another to, of course, the audience’s unmitigated astonishment. It’s a been-there-seen-that stunt that never fails.
Although Díaz is the unrivaled star of his burgeoning global enterprise, he hardly works alone. Throughout, he does things like toss a ball into the audience and has whoever catches it join him on stage. No one at the performance I attended, young or young-at-heart, reacted with anything less that outright delight.
Two sort-of-volunteers towards the end were blind-folded before being stood on one platform, then obscured by those ubiquitous black curtains, then showing up on an adjacent platform, then, the curtains raised and lowered, discovered back where they started. (The blindfolding requirement is probably explained by their being kept from observing the smoke and/or mirrors involved.)
The audience participants are, however, only a tiny fraction of the contingent supporting main attraction Díaz. Billed along with him are Carla Capellas, Jaume Gómez, Silvia Arocha, Paula Costa, Darwin Álvarez, and Lidia Checa, all of whom are likely sworn to secrecy about how the illusions are created. None of them accorded program bios, they’re not only incorporated in the illusions but are also busy running up and down aisles assisting whatever needs to be assisted.
Another ultra-active staff member is a camera man. He’s constantly videoing Díaz during the intimate sequences so’s they can be projected on a lowered wide screen. Which brings up the many other industrious illusionists like director Mag Lari, who keeps things moving along jauntily. Graphic and video designer Pep Marti all but constantly fills the upstage screen with hot visuals, augmented by lighting designer Dani Bartomeu and sound designer Jordi Mateo. (The flames leaping on some of those projections may account for the smoke viewed.) Díaz and Justin Díaz are responsible for the apocalyptic music aimed at juicing up the excitement.
The number of aides on hand is nowhere disclosed about an extravagant entertainment that’s anything but a money-gobbling illusion. It’s all right out there. For a two-week run it could be that even a likely sell-out won’t cover the financing. This goes toward further cementing Díaz’s name as the actual sought-after pay-off.
It’s got to be true of all, if not most, audience members that they don’t stop asking themselves and each other, “How does he do it?” Maybe every kind of way, but here’s one possible hint. Some of the surprises may be attained through the use of a soft blue light that permeates the auditorium for one astonishing illusion having to do with jellybean bottles. Lovely.
El Mago Pop opened August 20, 2023, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and runs through August 27. Tickets and information: elmagopop.com