Ordinary magic

The Reno Hilton’s new production is nothing to write home about

Mark Kalin and Jinger Leigh perform the “elevator trick” at the Reno Hilton.

Mark Kalin and Jinger Leigh perform the “elevator trick” at the Reno Hilton.

Rated 3.0

When I was a kid, my parents took me to see magician Doug Henning perform live. Despite Henning’s goofy, rainbow-colored clothes and poofy hair, I remember being enthralled. A little older and a little wiser, I was still pretty darn impressed with David Copperfield’s shenanigans. Then, a few years ago, David Blaine absolutely blew me away in his Street Magic TV special (and I’m still not entirely sure he’s not the Son of the Dark Lord, or at the very least an important minion in Satan’s army).

The point is, I’m down with magic. I’m not one of those people who tries to figure out every trick as it unfolds, or one of those really weird folks who actually get angry while watching a magic show, as if the show were a personal attack on one’s intelligence. But while watching the Reno Hilton’s new show, Kalin & Jinger’s Illusionarium, I couldn’t muster up much wide-eyed wonder.

Illusionarium is the follow-up to the Hilton’s Carnival of Wonders, which was retooled after comedian Jeff Hobson’s departure. Now, comedian/magician Mark Kornhauser provides the big laughs in the show, although “big” may be too strong a word. Some of Kornhauser’s material is genuinely funny and weird—and probably would have been funnier if I hadn’t already seen it on TV—but his performance was soured for me with his Samurai Sam character, which exploits a whole slew of racial stereotypes about Asians that are simply not amusing. I hate to take on the mantle of the politically correct whiner, but I found the gag to be as tasteless as it was unnecessary.

The namesakes of the show, Mark Kalin and Jinger (pronounced like ginger) Leigh, have engaging personalities and a definite sense of style. Rather than simply play the “lovely assistant,” Leigh provides a total entertainment package of singing, dancing and comedy, and Kalin has a talent for balancing the mystery and danger audiences crave from magic with a friendliness and gentle humor. Unfortunately, both performers head into extremely cheesy territory several times during the show, indulging in “aw, shucks” moments I could have done without.

If you’ve seen any of Illusionarium‘s ads, you know that the big finale involves the disappearance of an American Airlines jumbo jet, and the feat lived up to the hype. I have no idea how they made that massive hunk of metal disappear so quickly, and I remain duly impressed. Another illusion, in which Leigh levitates a couple dozen feet above the stage holding only a super-thin tiki torch for balance, was also pretty cool.

If I had to sum up how I felt about Illusionarium in one word, the best I can come up with is “eh” and a shrug of my shoulders. It certainly wasn’t bad, but I can’t say it was all that great, either. I often felt I was seeing a Vegas-style show with 50 percent less glitz and glamour; there weren’t enough props and performers, and it doesn’t help when your dangerous, man-eating big cats are rubbing their heads lovingly against the bars of their cages.

Oh, and one more thing: Shame on the Reno Hilton for getting rid of the cocktail waitresses in the theater and replacing them with self-serve beverage stands. If I wanted to get my own beer, I’d stay home.