ONE’S TALL, verbal and wry. The other’s short, mute and impish. Both are sleight-of-hand masters — and after collaborating for 40 years, they’re a top brand name in magic.
But that doesn’t keep “Penn & Teller on Broadway” at the Marquis Theatre from often being abra-ca- drab -ra.
Save for pianist Mike Jones and showgirl Georgie Bernasek, it’s the magicians and a bare stage. There’s no overarching theme to give the show shape in the big theater, just a greatest hits reel unspooling. So there’s no momentum or build. Director John Rando (“On the Town”) doesn’t have much to pull out of his hat here.
Worse still, is a careless snafu that wrecked the show’s opening illusion — then distracted the audience for the remaining 90 minutes Thursday night.
The curtain-raising gag revolves around a ticketholder’s cell phone. The trick relies on a speaker secreted under a seat near mine (E-119) emitting that person’s ring tone.
Once the trick is over, the speaker should be silent. But it regularly roared like gale-force winds for the rest of the show. There’s no way it’s part of the production — more likely someone failed to turn the damn thing off.
Whatever the cause, it took the mystery away from the magic. And Teller and Penn, whose run includes Broadway shows in 1987 and ’91 and a Las Vegas act that’s 14 years and counting, know it.
Fortunately there are tricks that leave you asking the right question — “How’d they do that?!” — even as the unwanted winds howled in Row E.
Like when Teller appears to swallow 100 needles, which he then pulls from his gullet on a single long thread. It’s the trick he was doing when he and Penn met. Later, Teller makes coins and goldfish appear from thin air.
Penn, meanwhile, works his subversive streak in segments involving airport security TSA and eating fire. Don’t try this at home, kids. Making a unique elephant disappear goes for goofy to good stuff.
The best moment comes when Penn deconstructs a trick as Teller replays it. The scene takes on a fluidity and pizzazz — if only the entire evening cast such a spell.