Review: The Houdini Box (Chicago Children’s Theatre)

| January 29, 2012
Alex Weisman as Victor in Chicago Children's Theatre's "The Houdini Box", directed by Blair Thomas. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)       
The Houdini Box

By Hannah Kohl (book/lyrics) 
    and Mark Messing (music)
Directed by Blair Thomas
at Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport (map)
thru March 4  |  tickets: $18-$36   |  more info 
Check out the Houdini Box study guide
Check for half-price tickets   
        Read entire review


A charming kid’s fantasy of meeting a hero


Alex Weisman, Sara Sevigny, Derek Hasenstab

Chicago Children’s Theatre presents
The Houdini Box

Review by Katy Walsh 

I’m a big fan of magic!  It’s an inarguable explanation for anything.  What makes my computer work?  Magic! How did she know to call?  Magic! Where did that cookie go?  Magic!  I could have gotten a liberal arts degree at Hogwarts.  I’m completely satisfied Alex Weisman as Victor in Chicago Children's Theatre's "The Houdini Box", directed by Blair Thomas. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)with *magic* being the answer to any question.

Chicago Children’s Theatre presents the world premiere of The Houdini Box.  Victor loves magic!  He idolizes Harry Houdini.  He wants to be a great magician.  He’s obsessed with tricks.  His mother wants to break the spell.  She decides to take him on a road trip.  In the train station, he meets a mysterious man.  Is it Harry Houdini?  Or is it another illusion?  Victor leans towards amazement.  What makes The Houdini Box marvelous?  Magic!

Author Brian Selznick’s book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” is the basis for the Martin Scorsese movie.  “Hugo” has just been nominated for eleven Academy Awards.  Now, Sleznick’s book “The Houdini Box” has been staged as a family musical.  Adapted by Hannah Kohl, the story is a charming kid’s fantasy of meeting a hero.  Under the direction and design of Blair Thomas, the engaging play continually goes from 3-D to 2-D.  Victor and his mother are in the flesh center stage.  They exit either way and turn into stick puppets.  The delightful illusion is heightened by the actor putting something on, like a scarf and then being mirrored by the puppet.  The quick back and forth from human to paper is a creative frolic! 

Original music by Mark Messing sets the tone for fun.  Messing composes a score that sounds like carnival meets hocus-pocus at a kid’s party.  The wacky combination of instruments makes for a seussical melody.  I’m pretty sure I heard a jing tingler or a flu flooper. This is what a good time sounds like!    

Competing with their puppet versions, this trio of actors are some of my Chicago favorites:  Alex Weisman, Sara Sevigny, Derek Hasenstab.  I’ve seen all of them as supporting stand-outs in other plays.  Having them on stage together conjures up a formidable supernatural force. Hasenstab is a chameleon performer.  He distinctly goes from barker to Houdini to Aunt Harriet with hilarious results.  The exuberant Sevigny balances maternal and comical.  Sevigny lovingly deals with a precocious Weisman.   And Weisman?! I want to adopt this kid even knowing he actually is a man.  With his cherubic face and boundless enthusiasm, Weisman transfixes with astonishing adorability.  The cast is magically delicious!   

“Every trick is rooted in mystery.”  What’s in the Houdini box?  Even though the audience never sees the contents, they all find out there is a lot to love in The Houdini Box.

Rating: ★★★½

The Houdini Box continues through March 4th at Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport (map), with performances Tuesdays-Thursdays at 10:15am, Fridays at 10:15am and 7pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 11am and 2pm.  Tickets are $18-$36, and are available by phone (773-325-1700) or online at (check for half-price tickets at More information at time: 55 minutes with no intermission)

Derek Hasenstab, Alex Weisman and Sara Sevigny in Chicago Children's Theatre's "The Houdini Box", directed by Blair Thomas. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)

All photos by Michael Brosilow 




Alex Weisman (Victor); Sara Sevigny (Mother); Derek Hasenstab (Barker)

behind the scenes

Blair Thomas (director); Rick Sims (sound); Sarah Hughey (lights); Elizabeth Wislar  (costumes); Brett Schneider (magic consultant); Dennis J. Conners (stage manager);  Michael Brosilow (photos)


Derek Hasenstab, Alex Weisman, Sara Sevigny - The Houdini Box

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Category: 2012 Reviews, Chicago Children's Theatre, Katy Walsh, Mercury Theater, Musical, New Work, World Premier

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