Having impressed audiences off-Broadway, the mentalist Derren Brown is now on Broadway and is immensely entertaining with his stunts that toy with people’s brains, or shall we say, their thought processes. The amazing man from Britain provides an experience that leaves audiences shaking heads and wondering how he does some of his striking feats. At two and one-half hours, the show feels a bit long at one stretch, but the finale is a knockout that sends audiences out on a high.
I am always amazed at how theatergoers are eager to get into the swing of audience participation. In this case at the start of “Secret” nearly everyone in the crowded theater quickly stood up at Brown’s instruction and went through the various hand movements he directed. I got the feeling that audience members were ready for anything, as they illustrated when those catching discs he hurled swiftly into the crowd eagerly grasped the opportunity to go on stage to help out or be his foils.
Brown asks everyone to pledge not to reveal anything about what he performs. So who am I to spoil the fun? Of course, this hampers providing adequate descriptions of what unfolds during his two-act razzle-dazzle.
But it is fair and square to say that before the show begins ushers pass out small envelopes enabling audience members to write responses that will fuel things to come. On stage is a container into which the envelopes are dropped.
Brown is a master at connecting with his audience. His speech is rapid-fire as he delivers amusing lines and quips in the process of getting a grip on attendees, the better to prepare everyone for the surprises he springs. He doesn’t claim to be a psychiatrist or soothsayer. But his bag of tricks involves demonstrations of how he can know what people may be thinking. The writing is by Andy Nyman, Brown and Andrew O’Connor, with O’Connor and Nyman directing.
Brown insists he doesn’t use shills. In fact, on the night I attended he rejected one person who went up on stage when the individual said in response to a question about what he did that he was a magician. The individual later told me that Brown recognized him as someone he knew.
For his 2017 debut show in the United States, Brown was given a Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience. Now comes a fresh opportunity to see what the fuss is about and enter into Brown’s world of mental manipulation. Maybe you can figure out some of what he accomplishes to audience gasps and applause. Sorry, I don’t want to be a spoiler by telling you more. At the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed September 16, 2019.