I love children’s theater! Partly because it is shorter and to the point, and partly because it brings children and live theater together. If done properly, kids will enjoy the experience and want more. Our city is very fortunate to have many companies that offer children’s programs and some devoted to same. Chicago Children’s Theatre is one of these troupes and while they do bring great stories to the stage, they feel it is even more important to teach the new theater-goers as well as entertain them.
Their current offering is a mix of fact and fiction as they tell the story of a young boy, Victor ( played to perfection by Alex Weisman), who has chosen as his idol Harry Houdini, one of the world’s greatest magicians. Victor loves magic and wants to learn every trick so that one day he can be Houdini. Victor locks himself up so that he can escape and his mother ( deftly handled by Sara Sevigny) has to get him out o fthe trunk or whatever he is locked in. Being concerned about his love for magic and his lack of wanting to do anything else, she takes him to his aunt Harriet’s house as she will not tolerate any of this childhood “stuff”. but as they wait for the train, Victor meets a man, a man who claims to be Houdini himself. When they return home, a letter is received from Houdini and Victor goes to his home, where he learns that the Great Houdini has passed away , but left a box for Victor.
Victor cannot open the box and thinking it is not really Houdini’s because the initial on the bottom are EW, not HH, puts it away in the attic and decides to give up his dream and magic. In other words, grow up as the narrator/Barker says. These roles plus many others are skillfully played by Derek Hasenstab ( who also does some magic playing Houdini himself. Victor grows up and goes to work and even has a son. While playing ball with his son, his son hits the ball very far and it lands at the grave site of Houdini, where Victor learns that his real name was Erich Weiss; E.W., goes to the attic and finds the box, which now opens. Victor has discovered that you can grow up and still retain your heroes, even if you don’t become them.
This is a one hour musical based on the book by Brian Selznick and written by Hannah Kohl. Mark Messing wrote the music which is handled by two musicians who play many instruments. Sam Deutsch and Tyler Culligan are the ace puppeteers who make Mr. Thomas’ magic come alive.The production is staged/directed by Blair Thomas who also designed the puppetry used in the show. Some very cool puppets and techniques. There is some choreography in the show by Stacey Flaster and working on the small “puppet like stage, I am sure was not an easy task, but as always she was up to it.
In many cases, when it comes to Children’s theater, I bring one or two of the grandkids with me so that I can offer the viewpoint of a youngster. Adam and Sarah were both busy today, so I went alone. However, I did meet a family with a five year old daughter, Charlotte and from time to time I turned to see her reaction. She hardly ever blinked as her eyes were wide with amazement and when I asked her what her favorite part of the show was, she told me it was the magic trick at the very end, when Victor, after he had opened the box, locked himself in his Grandmas trunk and then, not 20 seconds later came barging through the doors- under 20 seconds! Something only Harry Houdini could do! Thank you Charlotte for helping me tell other kids just how this play is filled with special moments.
“The Houdini Box” will continue at The Mercury Theater located at 3745 N. Southport in Chicago thru March 4th with performances Tuesday thru Thursday at 10:15 a.m. Fridays at either 10,10:15 or noon ( check with box office or online for exact times), Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m.and 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $15-$36 and can be purchased at the Mercury box office, by phone at 773-325-1700 or online at www.chicagochildrenstheatre.org. Metered parking available on Southport and there are some free spots during the daytime, but check the signs. Valet parking is available on weekends and the Blaine School just north of the theater is available on weekends as well for $10
StartingMarch 14th thru March 25th, the production will move up to Skokie at The North Shore Center For The Perfoming Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard 847-673-6300