‘Derren Brown: Secret’ review: Illusionist’s show may not be magic, but it sure is theater

Derren Brown, who previously appeared in the show Off-Broadway and has an expansive resume of BBC and Netflix specials, has earned enough cultural cachet to be able to attract filmmaker J.J. Abrams and "Hamilton" director Thomas Kail as producers of this "Secret" show. Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

Anyone with a big secret may want to consider attending a show involving less audience participation.

Derren Brown, who previously appeared in the show Off-Broadway and has an expansive resume of BBC and Netflix specials, has earned enough cultural cachet to be able to attract filmmaker J.J. Abrams and
Derren Brown, who previously appeared in the show Off-Broadway and has an expansive resume of BBC and Netflix specials, has earned enough cultural cachet to be able to attract filmmaker J.J. Abrams and “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail as producers of this "Secret" show. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

‘Derren Brown: Secret’ runs through Jan. 4 at the Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St., derrenbrownsecret.com.

“I don’t believe for a second I have any profound psychic ability,” explains English showman and mind reader Derren Brown, who has brought his entertaining (albeit long-winded) “Secret” spectacle of mind reading and illusions to Broadway.

Before intermission, Brown warns that anyone having an affair should not return for the second act — given the possibility that the secret will be publicly revealed. Based on what I witnessed, anyone with a big secret may want to consider attending a show involving less audience participation — like, virtually anything else on Broadway. That being said, this is not a magic show — or a session with a medium.

Claiming to be “always honest about my dishonesty,” the 48-year-old can somehow direct people to do what he wants and read their thoughts via an exceptional mastery of communication and persuasion skills, as well as some old-fashioned sleight of hand tricks.

The rest of us, he explains, are “trapped inside our own heads” and thus unable to notice, for instance, when a person in a gorilla suit makes a brief onstage cameo. To be honest, I missed the gorilla — both times.

Brown, who previously appeared in the show Off-Broadway and has an expansive resume of BBC and Netflix specials, has earned enough cultural cachet to be able to attract filmmaker J.J. Abrams and “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail as producers of the show.

With a sprightly disposition, a dapper-looking Brown spends two and a half hours explaining psychological concepts, selecting volunteer participants (insisting multiple times that no one has been planted in the audience and that we are all strangers) and performing elaborate stunts and games.

Alas, there’ll be no specifics here, as Brown pleads with audience members (including critics, who got singled out at my performance) to keep as much of what happens during it a secret, so as to not spoil the surprise. This makes writing a review challenging, but leaves theatergoers in a better position to attend the show with a clean slate.

Written by Brown, Andy Nyman and Andrew O’Connor — and directed by Nyman and O’Connor — the show might benefit from some judicious cutting. Some of the acts can be slow and monotonous, and Brown’s pontificating on psychology is a lot less interesting than when he proves his abilities. Nevertheless, Brown is quite the virtuoso and a genuine entertainer. It may not be magic, but it sure is theater.

Matt Windman