"THE MYSTERIES OF HOUDINI"
Reviewed by Chris Tower
Published Sept. 1, 1998, Battle Creek (MI)
MARSHALL, Michigan -- In 1995 John Sherwood
and crew devised and produced a glimpse into the life of
Harry Houdini called "The Mysteries of
Houdini." Now, in 1998, Sherwood and crew have not only
resurrected the long-dead Houdini but this marvelous,
spellbinding tribute to his legacy and the mystery of his
This night of magic, derring-do and mirth offers an evening
of first-class family entertainment in a second show on
Sept. 12 at the Marshall Civic Center on Mansion
From left: John Sherwood, Katari Brown, Marv Boyes, Nathan Sherwood
"Anyone alive can be a Houdini; we all have the potential"
announces Marv Boyes, who plays the legendary
"self-liberator" who was really named Ehrich Weiss. Boyes
switches between roles as the Master Magician, a modern
follower of the great Houdini, and the man himself in a
series of flashback sequences. Filling out the cast are
Katari Brown as Boyes' partner and as Bess Houdini, John
Sherwood, mastermind of the production, as a variety of
characters and Nathan Sherwood as the Student Magician
being instructed by Boyes' character.
All four performers turn in consistent and enjoyable work
though Boyes is the play's standout talent. As the central
figure of the show both as Houdini and the "Master
Magician," Boyes is perfect. He has the deep, commanding
voice and poise to command a powerful presence on stage,
creating an apropos mystique and sense of grace. Boyes has
the intensity of style that would rival both Blackstone,
Jr. and his father. He's far more impressive than all of
the popular magicians of today, even David
At right: Katari Brown, Nathan Sherwood and John
The "Mysteries of Houdini," devised and directed by John C.
Sherwood, charts the course of the life of Ehrich Weiss, a
young Jewish boy from Brooklyn then Milwaukee by way of
Budapest, who later changed his name to Harry Houdini after
famous French magician Robert-Houdin.
This show debunks the various myths that have been
perpetuated about Houdini's life by Hollywood and, to some
extent, Houdini himself. The play accomplishes this
truth-telling by a seamless shift between the discussions
of a modern magician and his student protege and
discussions between Houdini and the various characters from
his life, including Rabbi Weiss, Harry's wife Bess, brother
Theo and promoter Martin Beck.
Both modern performers and the representations of Houdini
and crew perform a variety of magic and escape artistry.
Those seeking dangerous feats of skill and magic will not
be disappointed as this show provides escapes from
thumbcuffs, ropes, handcuffs, chains, a strait jacket, a
pillory, a mail bag, and the feature, an original giant,
metal milk can last used by Houdini in his act in the
1920s. Added since the 1995 production is contact with
the spirit world, in which the audience is brought into direct
contact with forces from other worlds. All Houdini
afficiandoes will recognize this as appropriate for
Houdini's pursuit of true contact with the "next life" by
spirit mediums in the hopes of contacting his mother.
Houdini exposed many frauds during the latter years of his
At left: Nathan Sherwood, Marv Boyes and Katari
The drama and suspense of watching escapes is far more
exciting than any modern suspense movie or television
program. And with performers mingling with the audience and
using over a dozen assistants, the effect is very intimate
and palpably intense.
It's Sherwood's script that's the real star of the show.
The script uses Houdini's chains as a metaphor for the
plight of the American immigrant (of which Houdini/Weiss
was one), connecting Houdini's escapes with the hurdles of
"Being Houdini is a state of mind," says Houdini and modern
magician Marv Boyes at one point. "And he lives on in all
of us." And it's true. Shows like this one will not allow
people to forget what adversity one can overcome with
enough will power and determination. Don't miss the second
run of the show on Sept. 12.
ADDITIONAL DETAILS ...
The Master Magician/Houdini ... MARV BOYES
His Magical Partner/Bess ... KATARI BROWN
The Student Magician/Dash/Hardeen ... NATHAN SHERWOOD
The Rival Magician/Martin Beck ... JOHN SHERWOOD
"The Mysteries of Houdini," devised by John C. Sherwood,
was produced and directed for three separate series of
performances -- 1995 and 1996 at The Victorian Villa Inn in
Union City, Michigan, and in 1998 at the Marshall Civic
Center in Marshall, Michigan.
Nathan Sherwood in Houdini's milk can in
COMING SOON: Details about our use of HARRY HOUDINI's
original 1924 Milk Can escape, graciously loaned to us by
the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan. We
were allowed to restore this historic piece of magical
equipment -- owned variously by Theo "Hardeen" Weiss and
Martin Sunshine -- and restore it to complete working order
after having been unused and variously hidden away or
merely displayed for more than 60 years. Our discovery of
various details in the working proved to us that this item
had been made *specifically* for a man whose stature and
physique matched that of Houdini -- a fact which
forced our performer (Nathan Sherwood, who stood nine
inches taller than Houdini) to confine himself in an
extremely small space and compensate for a variety of
other body-mass issues. Return to this site for other
details at a later time.
C. SHERWOOD by e-mail.
West Grove, PA 19390
Call 610 / 345-0936 for information and questions
Our work at THE VICTORIAN
Our MYSTERY VISITS pages