Derren Brown Mesmerizes Broadway. How?

Derren Brown’s Secret, the new one-man show from London starring the popular British mentalist/magician, presents a conundrum for theater critics. It is the most riveting, literally mesmerizing show on Broadway. And yet no one can say much about it. Everything is a potential spoiler. 

But allow me to do just a little spoiling. Brown’s main gimmick is to select audience members seemingly at random (because they’re the ones who catch frisbees that Brown throws willy-nilly into the crowd) and enlist them in various stunts in which he “reads” their minds, predicts their actions, or divines various details of their life (a women starting a new business; a man recovering from an appendectomy). Brown is a funny, ingratiating performer, and his show has the slickness and disarming candor of post-modern illusionists like Ricky Jay and Penn and Teller. The first act, in particular, is a marvel of pacing and misdirection, with a closing coup-de-theatre that (while hardly the most amazing trick of the evening) leaves the audience nearly breathless.  

The second act gets more involved, and frankly a little labored, as Brown sets up an over-elaborate trick involving a group of audience members who are brought onstage, given sketch pads, and asked to make drawings of an array of pre-selected animals. Brown insists repeatedly that none of the participants are plants, and it’s certainly hard to tell how they could be.  But given the show’s gobsmacking finale and filmed coda, there’s definitely something fishy going on — and it was those amateur drawings that roused my suspicions. Eyelashes on a sheep? See if they pop up in your show. (Another clue: according to a friend, subscribers to TodayTix are told they cannot buy tickets to the show twice.)

I’ve said too much. But hey, any magician who thinks he can put one over on me … probably can. And I get at least one chance to try calling him out. It will hardly spoil this thoroughly enjoyable, if slightly maddening, evening.

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