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'Penn & Teller on Broadway' review: The magic continues

Penn Jillette, left, and his partner-in-magic, Teller.

Penn Jillette, left, and his partner-in-magic, Teller. Credit: TNS / Kieron McCarron

There is much to be said for longevity, for staying power, for consistency in the face of a changing entertainment cosmos.

There is even more to be said for "Penn & Teller on Broadway." This is the comedy-magic-philosophy duo's third Broadway show, but the first since 1991, and the 95-minute summer treat has opened just three weeks shy of their 40th professional anniversary when they were Off-Broadway pioneers of what used to be called "new vaudeville."

And they are still the same. And still mavericks. And still -- even for a person not naturally hard-wired to figure out puzzles and tricks -- amazing.

Penn Jillette, the big guy with the barker's patter, remains insinuatingly pleased with his diabolical self. Teller, the silent one with the classicist aura, seems similarly delighted with his sweet-faced self. They still wear three-piece gray pinstripe suits and interact with the audience -- now a huge one for six weeks in the 1,700-seat Marquis -- with a singular combination of awe and attitude, sincerity and irony.

Fourteen years in Vegas have neither mellowed their snark nor glitzed-up their essence in the production directed with friendly discipline by John Rando ("Urinetown"). But there is a pretty adorable nod to Siegfried & Roy's white tiger sanctuary with Teller's Vegas farm for "African spotted pygmy elephants" -- basically a fake cow with a vacuum cleaner tube for a nose.

They make cellphones and video work for them, not against them. They also go old-school, sawing a chorine in half. Penn eats fire and shoots a nail gun into his groin. Teller swallows a hundred embroidery needles, which reappear strung along a thread -- the first trick Penn ever saw him do. Teller, transformed into a noir sharpie, does a masterly demonstration called "Looks Simple," showing how these supposedly simple things are done.

Penn wants us not to think about how all this incomprehensible stuff is accomplished but, rather, "think about why." The men have a respect for tradition, a cynicism about the tradition's "tricks" and, new I think, major scorn for so-called psychics who take advantage of vulnerable people. They also acknowledge that animal acts should be conducted with "compassion, dignity and respect," though I could still live without the bunny, the fish and the chicken.

A terrific jazz pianist named Mike Jones provides a preshow and accompaniment. He is my kind of magic -- no tricks at all.

WHERE Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway, through Aug. 16

INFO $47-$147; 877-250-2929; pennandtelleronbroadway.com

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