Orlando Fringe 2022 Review: 'Cheating Death: Magic, Memoirs + Mortality'

Lugo is as adept at eliciting gasps with his storytelling as he is with sleight-of-hand skills.

As soon as I learned that Nelson Lugo lists both illusionist Harry Blackstone Jr. and Night Court’s Harry Anderson as formative influences, I knew his Cheating Death was going to be my kind of magic show. But he still managed to exceed my expectations with an enthralling evening of potentially painful magic tricks and unexpectedly pointed personal anecdotes that is the closest thing this Festival has to Derek DelGaudio's Hulu hit In And Of Itself.

Using the Japanese restorative art form kintsugi to literally tie his show together, Lugo (under the expert direction of Joel Jeske) takes audiences through five acts of emotional storytelling — covering his unhealthy relationships with his unfaithful wife and allergy-triggering pet rabbit — concluding each with a thematically related illusion. The tricks, which include classic razor & floss, pea & shell, and nail roulette routines — are all familiar but executed flawlessly. For his penultimate act, Lugo is bound using rope and thumb-cuffs, and inventively invites his audience to either watch him escape, or close their eyes and be surprised.

With only one major effect every 15 minutes, this has the lowest trick-to-talk ratio of the many magic shows in the Fringe, and the balance leans much more toward monologues versus magic than most patrons would probably expect going in. However, Lugo is as adept at eliciting gasps with his storytelling as he is with sleight-of-hand skills, making this magic show much more than the sum of its parts. By the time you see how much gravitas Lugo can give a simple snip-and-restore, you’ll agree this is easily the most theatrically polished magic show you’ll find in the Fringe.

Tickets and show info: Cheating Death: Magic, Memoirs & Mortality

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