A giddy wonder!
|The House Theatre presents|
Review by Catey Sullivan
Using little more than a chalk board quickly divided into a series of 16 numbers, Dennis Watkins will Blow. Your. Mind. Such is the power of Chicago’s premiere magician, a showman whose extraordinary feats of mind reading and telekinesis are matched only by the understated yet powerful charisma he displays on stage.
As the guiding light of The Magnificents, Watkins ensures that the show lives up to the title, which is both the showbiz moniker used by the rag-tag band of roving carnies (“The Magnificents”) at the heart of the show and a well-deserved description of their on-stage prowess. Herein, we get magic which is neither cheesy or predictable it is instead astounding, and wrapped around a compelling narrative centering on a mute, gifted young boy (Tommy Rapley) known simply as the Boy and taken under the wing of the group’s leader Great and Powerful Magnificent himself (Watkins.)
The others in the travelling roadshow are a memorable crew indeed: The lissome Honeydew (Lucy Carapetyan) is an aerial acrobat who spins on skeins of silk high above the stage with the grace and wonder of a prima ballerina unencumbered by gravity. Chase the clown (Michael E. Smith) is in possession of a magic red nose that transforms anyone who wears it into a rollicking human party. Then there’s the strongman Harley (Jeff Trainor), a tattooed bruiser of a fellow who can endure having a cement brick sledgehammered to bits on his stomach while he’s laying on a bed of nails. Finally there’s Magnificent the Magician’s strong-willed wife Rosie (Tien Doman), a tough, kind woman who recognizes in the truculent Boy a hidden, shining potential to one day carry on the legacy of the great Magnificent.
And that legacy is in danger, as we learn from the consumptive cough that bedevils Magnificent. His mortal coil is shuffling off, leaving his troupe of performers filled with sadness over his pending final disappearance and fear over what’s to become of them once their star has vanished for the final time.
In Watkins’ simple yet effective script, the looming specter of death is balanced against the joy of extraordinary performances. At one point, the performers lip synch – and act out – what is surely the goofiest, most charming song about travelling carnivals ever written. It’s a number of pure joy, the musical equivalent of a gallon of lemonade and a tub full of Crackerjack.
Throughout, Watkins peppers the action with patter, stories and truly astounding sleights of hand. Director Nathan Allen keeps the pace brisk and has the actors perfectly balancing between circus archetypes and winningly individualistic characters. At least Honeydew, Harley and Chase have a bit of a backstory – not so for either Magnificent or Rapley’s enigmatic, often surly Boy. And while that’s frustrating – you want to know more about both the magician and his chosen heir- there’s still so very much to love about The Magnificents.
By the time the grand finale rolls around, you’ll be wiping away a tear while smiling at the giddy wonder of the Magnificents.
The Magnificents continues through March 10th at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map), with performances Thursdays-Sundays at 7:30pm. Tickets are $25, and are available by phone (773-769-3832) or online through PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at TheHouseTheatre.com. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)
Photos by Michael Brosilow
behind the scenes
Nathan Allen (director); Kevin O’Donnell (original music): Lee Keenan (set, lighting); Melissa Torchia (costumes); Jack Mayer (video); Jeff Kelley (sound); Amanda Frechette (stage manager); Michael Brosilow (photos)