By Stanford Friedman

Shortly before the start of El Mago Pop, the mind-bending magic show from Spanish illusionist Antonio Díaz, my digital watch freaked out. First it buzzed, then it reset itself, then it conked out entirely. Coincidence? Perhaps. Did its tiny brain surrender at the thought that it would soon be subjected to feats which break the laws of physics and violate rules of linear time? It’s a smart watch, but not that smart. Or did it fall victim to electromagnetic shenanigans surrounding the sealed water glass that was on a pedestal in the aisle of the theater no more than two feet away from me? How else to explain the evening’s first illusion: An audience member surrendered his ring to Díaz who caused it to levitate, then suddenly materialize in the sealed glass even as I was staring directly into it. My mind buzzed, tried to reset, and then, indeed, freaked out.

This type of close-up magic accounts for about a third of the production’s 90 minutes and is never less than spectacular. With cameramen projecting the tricks onto a screen for the sake of those in the balcony, Díaz demonstrates his sleight of hand mastery working his way through an act, then performing it in reverse, manipulating various floating orbs, making torn up paper once again whole, and flawlessly predicting numerical sequences generated from well-shuffled decks or audience participatory math problems. In one especially impressive gambit, an audience member surrendered her driver’s license only to have its numerical data transformed into sequentially dealt out playing cards. Public service notice: If you do not want your personal information shared with a Broadway theater full of strangers, do not volunteer for this trick.

Another third of the show is filled with good old-fashioned stage illusions. You want a helicopter to appear out of nowhere? You got it. Various assistants teleported from behind one curtain to behind a different curtain on the other side of the stage? Yes, in spades. Díaz himself somehow disappearing mid-trick and turning up in the audience? Yessiree. But the best of the best comes when Diaz finds a middle ground between his two styles. This happens twice. First, he offers up a tribute to one of his inspirations, the great Cardini, who prestidigitated his way through the first half of the 20th century. But whereas Cardini perfected the art of pulling unlimited cards from his sleeve, Díaz does so, impossibly, dressed in a tight, short-sleeve shirt. 

Second, in the most emotionally charged illusion of the night, he engages an audience member in a “trust exercise.” With Tom Odell’s poignant ballad “Another Love” playing at full tilt, the blindfolded volunteer is laid out across a couple large blocks. Before long, not only is she levitating, but she is physically reacting to Díaz’s touch. Not his touching her body, mind you, but touching her shadow which is being projected behind her on a screen. It’s a nearly balletic moment, a pas de deux between magician and subject.

When the show is not being poignant or thrilling, it is being self-promotional. This starts with the marquee that informs that Díaz is “the most successful illusionist the continent of Europe has ever produced,” and continues with various video clips that interrupt the action to showcase his international success. A youthful 37-year-old, it will be interesting to see what this man who embraces the stage name El Mago Pop will turn into. He has already developed an endearing persona with his white shirt and narrow tie making him seem a nephew to Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp, especially in a running gag where his shoe disappears off his foot only to turn up in his hand. But he is also trying to conjure a David Copperfield machismo, master of teleportation and large props. And though his Broadway run is brief, he’ll have plenty of time – and space – to figure out just who he is. Not only does he own a theater in Barcelona, he just purchased another in Branson, Missouri. This master of disappearance has no plans to vanish. 


El Mago Pop – Original idea & script by Antonio Díaz; Directed by Mag Lari

WITH: Antonio Díaz, Carla Capellas, Jaume Gómez, Silvia Arocha, Paula Costa, Darwin Álvarez, and Lidia Checa

Dani Bartomeu (Lighting Design), Jordi Mateo (Sound Design), and Pep Marti (Graphic & Video Design). The Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W 47th St.,212-239-6200, Through August 27. Running time: 90 minutes