Broadway Review: EL MAGO POP (Ethel Barrymore)

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by Gregory Fletcher on August 20, 2023

in Theater-New York


At 37, the celebrity illusionist Antonio Diaz, AKA “El Mago Pop,” may or may not be the youngest illusionist to appear on Broadway (the press says he is, but I saw 27-year-old Doug Henning when The Magic Show opened in 1974, and Paul Dabek was 31 in The Illusionists during the holiday season of 2015), but he certainly is the best. Even if Mr. Díaz isn’t the youngest, he’s certainly looks it. He could easily pass for his early 20s, and without a doubt, to see ALL that he’s accomplished is quite impressive, no matter his age. And for 10-12 minutes before tonight’s opening of his self-titled 75-minute extravaganza at the Ethel Barrymore, presenter, creator, writer, music selector (with Jesús Díaz), and star Antonio Díaz offered a media warm-up proving why he Europe’s highest grossing, successful star.

If I questioned who this Antonio Díaz was, the audience around me did not. The moment the house lights darkened, cheers erupted all around me. A projected film on the front screen detailed Antonio’s accomplishments: his TV shows, the theater named after him in Barcelona, his international acclaim, his own plane, and the theater he recently purchased in Branson, Missouri, which he now calls his home base. (The former Mel Tillis Theater will be the Branson Magic Theater.)

As the film clip ended, the audience applauded with gusto. Next, another film reenacted his childhood (with English subtitles) where he was first inspired by magic at the age of four. At ten, he performed his first magic show, and through hard work and countless hours of practice and experimentation, he became Europe’s greatest star. Yes, more thunderous applause around me. The selfpromotion was a bit off-puttingincluding a segment about his appearance on Broadway, listing the other stars who had performed at the Barrymore (putting him in a league with Marlon Brando and Katherine Hepburn?), and with Disney-sounding narration, the projected ego felt huge and a bit cheesy.

Once he appeared onstage however, the cheesy disappeared. Well, his six assistants remained a bit cheesy with their stiff, military moves by rote. But no matter, Díaz proved to be charming, personable, and funny, with an adorable English accent. In short, he was everything the audience already knew he was.

For the following 75 minutes, it was one Wow! and WTF after the next. Staged for an unforgettable Broadway debut, director Mag Lari pulled out all the stops for a bigger, splashier show than the two illusionists I recently saw in Las Vegas: the extremely entertaining Shin Lim and Mat Franco, both of whom were equally entertaining and impressive. Despite some slight similarities, Antonio Díaz’s El Mago Pop takes it several degrees higher. His illusions had more variety, each one bigger than the last, inducing jaw-dropping gasps. Even his designers outdid Vegas with a more extravagant light design by Dani Bartomeu, an exciting sound design by Jordi Mateo, and equally well done Graphic & Video design by Pep Marti.

My applause grew louder with each new illusion. He thrilled with a deck of cards and a Rubik’s Cube, (a camera projects close-ups onto a big screen). He expertly interacted with audience members and did unbelievable things with personal items such as a wedding ring, a watch, a cell phone, etc. There were huge props and contraptions that dazzled and shocked, he made people disappear, he teleported himself (as well as others), he walked up a wall and upside down, and he flew! He freaked us out with déjà vu, he stopped time, reversed time, and a door gift everyone received at the entrance into the theater made us scream in astonishment. By his final illusions, I was cheering as loud as everybody else around me. We were up on our feet for two separate standing ovations.

I’d say save the three intros for Branson, his future home base and a town built on cheesiness. For Broadway, Antonio Díaz doesn’t need an intro — with this event, he has conquered New York and is building an empire in the Empire State. With a mastermind for illusions, not to mention his adorable bouncing eyebrows, he is creating a cult following that will no doubt grow with his upcoming international tour of this show (next stop: Barcelona). Get your tickets now for this too-short stop on Broadway. That way, you won’t have to go to Branson.

photos of Madrid performance by Emilio Madrid

El Mago Pop
Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St
ends on August 27, 2023
for tickets, visit El Mago Pop

find Gregory Fletcher at Gregory Fletcher, Facebook, and Instagram.

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