Reviewed by Chris Tower
Published Sept. 1, 1998, Battle Creek (MI) Enquirer

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 existence.

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 Street.

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 Copperfield.

At right: Katari Brown, Nathan Sherwood and John Sherwood

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 life.

At left: Nathan Sherwood, Marv Boyes and Katari Brown

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 life.

"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.



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 1996

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.

Contact JOHN C. SHERWOOD by e-mail.

West Grove, PA 19390
Call 610 / 345-0936 for information and questions

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