REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Houdini Box

Book  and Lyrics by Hannah KohlThe Houdini Box

Based on the book by Brian Selznick

Music by Mark Messing

Produced by Chicago Children’s Theatre

At the Mercury Theatre, Chicago

Cute hour long kid’s show engages audiences

Based on the book by Brian Selznick, The Houdini Box is a children’s musical with music by Mark Messing and book and lyrics by Hannah Kohl. It is the story about a young boy, Victor (Alex Weisman) who is totally enamored with Harry Houdini and his magic tricks. NOTE: this is not the same show as Death and Harry Houdini that The House Theatre of Chicago is now presenting at Chopin Theatre but rather as kid friendly musical.

The Houdini Box

Victor is always trying Houdini’s tricks that get him to lock himself in closets and chests. They never work and his mother, played with gusto by Sara Sevigny, always get him out.  She gets tired of Victor’s obsession and vivid imagination so she takes him Aunt Harriet’s house. Derek Hasenstab plays the Aunt as well as the vaudevillian ringleader and Houdini himself.

But when a change meeting with Houdini at a train station, Victor’s world changes when Houdini’s  promised letter arrives for Victor. Victor visits Houndini’s home just after Houdini’s death but his widow entrusts a small box from Houdini to Victor. That changes the youth forever.

The Houdini Box musical

Through the musical, we see cute puppets moving the action along. Blair Thomas, the show’s director,  is a master at utilizing puppetry along with live actors to tell a story.  We see Victor and his Houdini puppet trying the Water Torture escape using only a water glass and a 6 inch puppet.

Imagination and songs fuel the story. Kohl and Messing’s score was bland and forgettable. A poor sound mix allowed the percussion to dominate. And Alex Weisman’s vocals (despite a most beguiling performance as Victor) were scratchy at best with his voice cracking several times.  Sara Sevigny and Derek Hasenstab nailed their tunes nicely.

The Houdini Box

The Houdini Box is a fun show for the kids who seemed to enjoy the performance I attended. I’m sure their imaginations were stimulated by Victor’s pursuit of Houdini’s magic.


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: 2 pm on February 4, 2012

For more info checkout The Houdini Box page on

At the Mercury Theatre, 3745 N. Southport, Chicago, IL, call 773-325-1700,, tickets $18 – $26  fro children up to 18 years old, $28 – $36 for adults, running time is 60 minutes without intermission, performances daytime and afternoons, through March 4, 2012. NOTE: the show moves to the North Shore Center For The performing Arts in Skokie:  March 14-25.




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