The Houdini Box at Chicago Children’s Theatre | Theater review
Brian Selznick’s book is adapted into a slight but winning family musical.
Chicago Children’s Theatre’s latest couldn’t be more timely. The new musical is adapted from the book by Brian Selznick—the Caldecott winner whose work spawned current Oscar contender Hugo.
Here’s the potentially tricky part of this good timing: It brings with it heightened expectations. Houdini Box is a very different, much slighter tale than the one Scorsese brought to cinemas. It’s a simple story, really, which CCT expands into an hour-long, fun-loving musical with whiz-bang set pieces and whimsical puppetry. Protagonist Victor (played with sincerity and commitment by Alex Weisman) frustrates his mother with his constant attempts at magic and escape tricks. It’s all due to his idolization of Harry Houdini, whom he bumps into at Penn Station. The famous illusionist makes the young lad a secret promise, setting in motion both the greatest joy and the greatest disappointment of Victor’s life.
Director and puppet designer Blair Thomas packs the show with delightful details. The three-person cast brings plenty of talent, too, especially Sara Sevigny, a truly chameleonic performer who seems perfectly at home in any era. But the show still seems overlong. Thomas and company clearly felt the need to stretch the material to the hour mark, yet Hannah Kohl’s script doesn’t invent enough extra story to fill the time.