The laughs come as often, if not moreso, than the oohs-and-ahs at “Penn & Teller on Broadway,” the long-awaited return to the Great White Way by the famed magic duo, now nestled into the Marquis Theatre for a limited summer run. And it’s a perfect warm-weather entertainment: extremely funny, slightly challenging to the brain, and air-conditioned. It also proves why this pair has remained so popular with audiences for nearly 40 years.
Those who actually relish audience participation (which included a shocking amount of the crowd on my visit) will definitely find this act, smartly directed by John Rando, to their liking. As soon as the doors open around 7:30, you are encouraged to go on stage, where jazzy pianist Mike Jones is tickling the ivories, take a peek at a famed magic box (and take pictures) and sign a large manila envelope that will come into play later in the show. The duo’s first trick not only involves all who are willing to turn on their cellphones, but one member is called on stage to use that phone in an unusual way. And throughout the 95-minute piece, many are called on stage (voluntarily) to somehow assist or observe the pair as they go through their often astounding paces.
As fans of the pair know, Teller remains silent throughout the show, although he can say plenty with a raised eyebrow or subtle glance, while the loquacious Penn Jillette keeps us alternately amused and enlightened with his patter. These unusual magicians are, at times, willing to let us on the act, though by evening’s end, you really still won’t understand how they pulled off many of their amazing feats, no matter how hard you look. (One exception, I know now what it takes to eat fire. And no thanks, I’m still not doing it!)
Of course, the “trick” in reviewing a show like this, is that I don’t want to really give much away, so I’ll just name a few of my favorite segments (as listed in the program): “Red Ball,” “He’s a Little Teapot,: “East Indian Needle Mystery,” “Silverfish” and “Nail Gun.” You can use your imagination as to what these acts, and others, entail, but you’ll probably be wrong! And that, my friends, is a large put of the fun of watching Penn & Teller.