The tricky thing about reviewing Derren Brown’s Secret on Broadway is that the audience is sworn to secrecy on arrival in the theater. So should I just tell you it’s great, go see it, you won’t regret it, and be done? Okay, fine, you’re here for more context than you’d gain from a tweet, so here comes a mostly cryptic review.
A household name in the U.K. thanks to countless television specials, Brown made his way to the States for an Off Broadway run two years ago. Now the English showman, magician, and all-round beguiling trickster is back, bringing his show Derren Brown: Secret to a Broadway audience this time around. Perhaps “bringing his show” to an audience is incorrect phrasing, because during the production, the audience feels every bit as involved in the show as Brown himself. As he points out in the playbill, “it’s people’s ongoing psychological experience that’s my prop.”
During Secret (playing now at Broadway’s Cort Theatre and running through Jan. 4), Brown tosses frisbees into the crowd, ostensibly at random, thereby selecting the catcher to participate in the next act, each more unbelievable than the next — from predicting in which hand a participant holds a $50 bill to painting a portrait projected from another audience member’s mind. We know what you’re thinking: Those people in the audience are in on it. But when you’re there in front of Brown, you reject that suspicion. Perhaps that’s because, from the get-go, Brown wins us over. Minutes after taking the stage, he shares an intimate story of his coming out as gay at 31. Now we’re his confidants, willing to believe him when he emphatically reminds us no one is planted in the audience to steer him to correct conclusions throughout the show. Though it should be noted that Brown also repeatedly reminds us he is not psychic in any way. I guess he’s just endearing enough that we allow ourselves to believe both stories at once.
Without giving away too many details and breaking my oath of secrecy, let’s just say Brown’s show comprises a deft mix of distraction (not once, but twice a banana disappears from its stage-right perch completely unnoticed, despite Brown warning us this would transpire), exceedingly sleight sleights of hand (think somehow infiltrating a locked box within another locked box in plain sight), and powers of persuasion and deduction so masterful that they appear to be mind reading (if someone tells you not to think of a secret you don’t want them to reveal, guess what happens next). Suffice to say, if you’ve done something sh—y, maybe stay home, or at the very least don’t come with someone you’ve wronged.
Coming in at a lengthy two and a half hours, there’s never a moment when you feel you’ve been sitting too long (unless the host psychologically instructs you that you have), as Brown interweaves the trickery with heartwarming interactions and revelations and a whole lot of humor. You might be disconcerted at times, but you’re never not entertained. Brown’s charming and disarming stage presence captivates the crowd throughout and allows whatever “magic” he performs to go unnoticed. Even though you know it’s a polished show that presumably rarely deviates from its extremely tight, tried-and-tested structure, you still can’t help but enter into the fun of being deceived. Indeed, part of the pleasure is knowing you’re never going to figure it out. Seriously. Days later, I’m still thinking about a certain curtain-call reveal. It alone is worth the trip to the theater.
By the end, your head might hurt from trying to wrap your brain around all that you’ve experienced, but so will your cheeks from the strain of prolonged smiling in disbelief. Like I said, it’s great, go see it, you won’t regret it. A