It was supposed to be only a three-week gig.
American magician Kevin James and several of his brethren were brought together for a big stage show in 2011 called “The Illusionists” at the Sydney Opera House.
“For some reason there was some kind of synergy and the audience loved it,” James recalled in a phone interview. “It sold out quickly and grew legs really fast, and turned into a six-year job.”
“The Illusionists” took James – no relation to the TV star and comedian of the same name – around the world, including three stints on Broadway.
Most importantly, he said, it gave some respect to his craft.
“It proved that magic was a viable art form for the public and for producers. I’m very happy to make producers money,” he said with a laugh from a tour stop in Syracuse, N.Y. “It only will lead to more productions and more shows down the road.”
“The Illusionists: Live from Broadway” stops for two performances at Century II on Tuesday and Wednesday, presented by the Broadway Theater League.
James, 55, is one of five performers featured in the night. Each has his own specific reputation and persona on stage. For James, who was born to a U.S. Air Force family in France and raised in Michigan, it’s “The Inventor.”
His offstage reputation backs up that title. He has created magic effects that have been used by the likes of Doug Henning and Mark Wilson, and his “Floating Rose” trick is performed by David Copperfield.
James said he looks at the tricks as his babies, ready to leave the nest when they get old enough.
“They start out as a little scribble on a napkin, and by the time you’re getting applause it’s really a joyous, soul-fulfilling kind of process,” he said. “You are kind of emotionally connected.”
James said he has to learn to leave a trick behind, which he does after five to 10 years.
“Once you release one either to the entire magic fraternity or to some high-level friend, you have to kind of emotionally detach from it,” he said. “Some people will do it great, and others will do it not-so-great.
“I’ve done it so many times that I think I can let it have its own wings,” James added.
Like a child leaving the roost, James said he likes to see what progress has been made.
“What I really love is to see a magician improve on one of my ideas or change it to really fit their persona, to see what they add to it or bring their point of view to it,” he said. “I don’t really want them to do it the same way I do it. I want to see them change it up to fit their style.”
His research-and-development technique is what occupies his days, James said. Some acts are “born pretty quickly, and others take years – literally years – to simmer,” adding “there’s 10 in the pipeline at any given moment.”
The R&D begins with a mockup using cardboard and duct tape, he said, to master the dimensions and the physical side of the act.
“An effect can have three or four different solutions, and you look at each solution and think, ‘In what method can I hide the disadvantages,?’” he said.
By the time he gets into the metal-and-wood stage, he said, it’s ready for an audience.
“It is really a great experience to get applause for something that starts out as a little scribble,” he said.
Others on stage at Century II will be Jonathan Goodwin, “the Daredevil”; Colin Cloud, “the Deductionist”; An Ha Lim, “the Manipulator”; and Jeff Hobson, “the Trickster.”
James’ tricks do vary from stop to stop on the tour, he said, only because of what theaters will allow him to use pyrotechnics and what theaters have limited wing space for his work.
He’s introducing several new tricks in this round of “The Illusionists,” including one that begins with an 8-foot neon moon with fog. One of the show’s female dancers makes a running start, “jumps into the fog and changes into me,” he said.
“I go back over and pull the cloth off, and it’s her under the cloth,” James said.
“It’s a very visual, beautiful piece,” he added. “It’s a thrill every night to try it.”
‘The Illusionists: Live from Broadway’
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday, Jan. 30-31
Where: Century II concert hall, 225 W. Douglas
Tickets: $35 to $79, from the WichitaTIX box office at Century II, online at wichitatix.com or by phone at 316-303-8100