Illusionists plan local show

What weighs more than 15,000 pounds and features a blend of mystery, music, drama, romance and comedy?

That would be the Nelson Illusions’ “Smoke and Mystery” show. It is set for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 12 at The Ritz Theatre. Jeff Nelson, his wife Lynn and daughter Sharii are the performers. Their crew also includes musician Scott MacNeill.

“We visit 30 places a year and do between two to four shows each place,” Nelson said. “We drive two trucks in. We spend 12 hours unloading and setting up. Then the next day, we do all the lighting and sound for the show.”

Eight people from the theater who are “signed to secrecy” are recruited to help the Nelsons with the set-up at each venue. One set piece is a massive drill that is 21 feet long, weighs 4,000 pounds and operates on 230 volts of electricity.

Nelson said the idea came to him in a nightmare that woke him in a sweat. He approached Sharii to get her feedback.

“He popped that question on me. … He said what would you feel like 18 feet up in the air on a gigantic industrial drill?'” Sharii said.

“We wanted to do something that nobody else was touring with. That makes our show very unique. It was two years to get it in the show, and $125,000 invested just in that one piece,” Nelson said. “It’s what you go through in life, and how you survive it, and how it can make you better.”

“It’s a great piece. It’s very artistic and dramatic,” Lynn added.

The drill debuted in 2010, but this is the first year it has been taken on tour. A new illusion typically takes about two years to be developed from the concept to an actual performance in a show, Nelson said.

He said he was able to add one illusion in six months’ time, but that was an exception.

Careful planning is done to choose a theme, construct costumes and coordinate lighting, sound and choreography. The Nelsons use an 18th-century set and specialty costumes. Selecting music is a lengthy process that requires weeks of listening and working it into the acts.

MacNeill said he has promised to write original music specifically for the Nelsons.

“I’m working on some pieces to put in. possibly at intermission and some pre-show music,” MacNeill said.

“A lot of other shows use music from the ’80s and ’90s, so we’ve really kept our music updated. We use a lot of what’s called theme park music, which is (by) Abney Park and another band called Night Wish,” Nelson said. “We’re using music no one’s ever used before and we’re using optical illusions no one else is performing.”

Nelson emphasized Lynn and Sharii are full-fledged magicians, not his assistants.

“They actually do their own specialty acts. Lynn’s going to produce 20 umbrellas on stage and Sharii does an award-winning act with cards and birds,” he said.

The Nelsons recommended a set of books, the Tarbell series, for anyone interested in magic. Those who want to perform magic should study theater, music, acting and dance as well as magic, he said.

A person also should plan to spend years perfecting the craft, Nelson said.

“The average musician takes 10 years. The average magician could take up to 20 years. Sharii’s been doing this since she was 18 months old,” he said. “Study the basics. … Learn the skills and go into it because you want to be an artist, you want to communicate and entertain, not because you want to be famous or rich.”

The Nelsons have performed in 32 countries and have appeared in more than 40 television shows and films. Nelson said they are excited to be performing on The Ritz stage.

“We love the old theaters,” Nelson said.

“A lot of the classic theaters have been destroyed. … It’s like working in a piece of history,” Lynn said.

Tickets are $10. No flash photography or videotaping is to be permitted. For tickets and information, visit, stop at 30 S. Washington St. or call (419) 448-8544.