The Magnifients House Theatre of Chicago

Extended until March 17th

 "Top Drawer Magic from the formidable Watkins repertoire (more than enough to greatly entertain the most magic-loving folks of all ages)" - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 1/28/13
"With "mind-boggling old-school magic tricks, The Magnificents earns its title." - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 2/7/13
"Watkins’ Magic is as remarkable as ever" and the rest of the cast makes the audience-pleasing, mostly whimsical and deceptively complicated choreography look second nature" - Zach Freeman, NewCity Chicago 1/28/13
"The story is heartwarming and engaging. The magic will blow you away!"  -
"... Right now, The Magnificents may be 'The Best Show on Earth!' " -

Thu-Sun @ 730p

Tickets $25 @ 773.769.3832


01/18/13 - 03/17/13

Thu-Sun 730p

Life in magic, echoed in a story at House Theatre - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 1/28/13. - "Dennis Watkins, whose Friday-night parlor tricks have been selling out his show at the Palmer House Hilton, is a formidable magician, steeped in the secret art of prestigitation and legerdemain, but also skilled at big-scale illusions where his torso gets sawed in half or his entire body disappears. Watkins makes in a living in the way most magicians make livings — performing at parties, corporate events, festivals and the like — but he's long been more compelled than most by the legitimate theater, starring in a series of narrative productions over many years at the  House Theatre of Chicago, where he has many collaborators who understand the caliber of their very serious magical friend.

"The Magnificents," the self-penned vehicle for Watkins that opened at the House on Sunday night, is actually a remount of a production first staged in 2007. Watkins has come a long way since then — although in this particular show, not quite so much.

To put it bluntly, "The Magnificents" has some top-drawer magic from the formidable Watkins repertoire (more than enough, you should note, to greatly entertain most magic-loving folks of all ages for a couple of hours).
But it remains underwritten. The piece was conceived as Watkins' tribute to his grandfather — apparently an irascible but loving fellow who passed on his talent to a grandson who has used it well. In its first iteration in 2007,  this tale of secrets was combined with clowning by Molly Brennan (of "500 Clown" fame), which felt very much like two shows trying to fuse into one.

This time, the world is more consistent. We meet a ragtag circus-magic troupe called "The Magnificents," whose show, a combination of circus performance and magic, spills out from its truck.  The headliner, Magnificent, is played by Watkins. We learn that he's taken a group of lost souls and turned them into artists, mostly by convincing them that they have skills: they can be a clown (played by Michael E. Smith), an aerial artist (the dazzlingly flexible Lucy Carapetyan), or a strongman (Jeff Trainor). At the start of the show, a young boy stops by the tent, sans the requisite nickel. One of the showpeople throws the mysterious kid a coin and he's in, soaking up the personalities and art in what's presumably a surrogate version of Watkins' own youthful progression toward magical mastery.

It all bubbles along pleasantly enough under Nathan Allen's direction — Tommy Rapley, who plays the Boy, is a performer with his own formidable range of skills, magic and otherwise — but the show doesn't fully work as a
device to hold all these tricks together. In this new version, "The Magnificents" has taken a more explicit turn into the realm of narrative storytelling, and once you make such a leap, you then have to build more of a story.

At this juncture, it feels like the show hasn't decided if it wants to be a series of tricks connected by a light narrative frame — something like you might see at the Cirque du Soleil — or something that really hangs together in terms
of plot and character. To my mind, it needs to take a big step toward the latter: we need to know more about who this Boy might be, we need to better understand the relationship between The Magnificent and his wife (the warm-centered Tien Doman) and, above all, we need something more explicit at stake to drive sufficient dramatic tension. Too much of this show lacks urgency.

What I wanted most, though, was to see Watkins really delve into his own past — his presence on stage is a carefully enigmatic construction, but I've long felt Watkins has more to give, more to explore, more to reveal about his profession and himself. If he can layer that kind of vulnerability — and he'll have to pen the text to help him do so — on top of these terrific tricks, then he'll really have a show"


The Magnificents from House Theatre: Dennis Watkins's gentle, magic-fueled fable returns in a spruced-up production - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 2/7/13.  " As a follow-up to last year’s impressive remount of Dennis Watkins’s early work Death and Harry Houdini, the House revisits Watkins’s equally magic-infused 2007 piece about a small-scale traveling circus that takes in a new ward (Tommy Rapley) over the objections of the sickly magician proprietor (Watkins). The production isn’t much of a play, though maybe it’s not trying to be. As author, Watkins has  improved on his earlier iteration; for instance, he makes the magician’s wife (Tien Doman) a full-fledged character rather than the gibberish-talking nag of the original. Yet no one onstage (including Jeff Trainor as a strongman, Lucy Carapetyan as a flirty aerial artist and Michael E. Smith as the company clown)  has what you could call a character arc. Still, as a semi-narrative framework for Watkins’s mind-boggling old-school magic tricks, The Magnificents earns its title".

The Magnificents - Zach Freeman, NewCity Chicago 2/7/13.   "Actor/magician Dennis Watkins, hot off of last year’s widely praised extended run of “Death and Harry Houdini,” is currently enjoying an open run of his one-man magic show, “The Magic Parlour,” at Chicago’s Palmer House. So it’s a good time for an updated remount of The House Theatre’s 2007 Watkins-penned, magic-centric show “The Magnificents,” where Watkins stars as an aging, ailing magician known as Magnificent who serves as head  and father figure of the titular not-quite-ragtag group of travelling performers.

Here Watkins plays a slightly gruffer version of himself, with a dash of white in his hair, a slight stoop in his posture and a nagging cough. But for those who have seen “The Magic Parlour,” his witty stage banter is familiar and  engaging, as are several of the tricks performed during the course of this two-hour-and-fifteen-minute (including intermission) show.

Under the direction of House artistic director Nathan Allen, this production makes much use of its cast’s individual skills, with time devoted to each of the troupe member’s talents. Magnificent performs illusions, blustery strongman Harley (Jeff Trainor) gets a cinder block smashed on his chest, graceful aerialist Honeydew (Lucy Carapetyan) gives a delicate and athletic aerial silk demonstration and slapstick clown Chase (Michael E. Smith) energetically takes orders and provides physical comic relief.

Lee Keenan’s multifaceted set, mostly consisting of a fold-out stage on the back of an old truck bed, is a bit of a magic trick in itself, opening and closing in various ways to reveal different scenes and even providing the movie screen
 backdrop for three well-made, though ultimately unnecessary video dream sequences created by Jack Lawrence Mayer.

When a nameless/speechless boy (Tommy Rapley) other characters simply refer to as “the kid” is caught stealing an audience member’s wedding ring during a trick, Magnificent’s kind-hearted wife Rosie (Tien Doman) begs the group
 to give the boy a place to stay and a chance to prove himself. Thus, through a series of trial and error “auditions,” do we find out that the boy’s true natural skill lies in the art of legerdemain. And here we get to the point: Magnificent
 needs a pupil he can pass on his art to before it’s too late.

In service of this, we get several charming sequences of mentor/mentee magic lessons. But the way Watkins’ script weaves in and out of performance and backstage interactions begins to present us with a slight problem,
 as we’re left wondering when we’re “the audience” (from which volunteers can be plucked up on stage in service of a trick) and when we’re just the audience (witnessing the performer’s private lives while securely hidden behind the
 fourth wall). It’s a question Magnificent would no doubt wave away as trivial, but it’s distracting all the same.

Watkins’ magic is as remarkable as ever and the rest of the cast makes the audience-pleasing, mostly whimsical and deceptively complicated choreography (Rapley) look second nature, but there’s only so much that these visuals can
 give us. Beneath the shiny exterior, “The Magnificents” is ultimately a story of family and connection, love and loss, but aside from one heartbreaking moment when Smith’s Chase, playing doctor to Magnificent’s weakening condition,
demands that everyone else put on their clown noses, there’s a dramatic core that just isn’t quite there. For a brief second Smith captures the intensity of the love and fear that can grip us all in trying times. Along with the tricks
 and sight gags, which are undeniably striking, this show could use a few more moments like that".


The Magnificents - A "Must See" Show - Alex Huntsberger,  "Do we believe in magic? We're not sure, but this House Theatre show made us believe in magicians. Splendid local illusionist Dennis Watkins
 has remounted an expanded version of "The Magnificents," a show he wrote to honor his grandfather (the man who taught him everything he knows about rabbits and hats). It's both a poignant story and a carnival, complete with a
clown and an acrobat. At the center, there's Watkins as Mr. Magnificent, the cranky, aging performer who entrances his young protégée (and his audience) with sly, effortless wonder.

If Dennis Watkins didn’t literally do magic, then magic would be exactly the word to describe what he does. But whereas one might expect a man who does magic to be a man who tricks you, who bamboozles your  natural senses, Watkins is after something else. When he performs an act of magic (I refuse to call them tricks) he creates a sense of comforting, majestic awe. You do not know how he does what he does, but you would never  in a million years ask him to tell you how. Because, as Watkins puts it at the outset of his play “The Magnificents,” “You may find yourself in a moment asking “How?” But remember this: There is no answer near as satisfying as  the question itself.” Amen.

Written by Watkins and based off the character of his own grandfather, “The Magnificents” follows a ramshackle family of circus performers as they travel the back roads of mid-century Texas. Featuring a headstrong strongman (Jeff Trainor), a gravity-defying aerialist (Lucy Carapetyan) and a red-nosed big-hearted clown (Michael E. Smith). The act is led onstage by the irascible magician Magnificent (Watkins) and off by his steadfast wife, Rosie (Tien Doman).

When a young, mute drifter (Tommy Rapley) joins their only-kind-of-of-merry gang , it becomes clear that he is the one person fit to learn the art of magic from Magnificent, whose health is quickly declining. The plot itself is pretty
pro forma, but it does what it needs to do: setting them up, so that Watkins can knock them down.

But what saves the show from being a mere framework around the Watkins magic act is the play’s bold theatricality, keeping in the House style. There is mime, clowning, aerial routines and considerable choreography (done by Rapley).
 It’s a complete show, no doubt. Even so, it always knows when to back away and simply let Watkins work his, well, his magic. Watch him tell a man’s life story using a deck of cards or pluck a random number out of an audience member’s
 head in the most endearingly show-offy way possible. You know it’s a trick. There is never any doubt. But Watkins succeeds in convincing us that the fun is in not knowing. And we are more than happy to sit back and enjoy the show".


Thrilling staging and magic makes The Magnificents a wonderful theatrical event - Tom Williams, 
"First staged in2007. The Magnificents still carries a mystical, magic aurora that audiences find  enticing. The revised version, now directed by Nathan Allen,  still has Michael E. Smith as Chase the clown with Tien Doman as Rosie with Jeff  Trainor as the strongman, Harley. Lucy Carapetyan is the aerial artist who, with Tommy Rapley, do amazing high-silk aerial routines. The show still has the terrific actor/choreographer Tommy Rapley recreating his role as the boy magician as he channels the young Dennis Watkins. This new show has much new staging  with more fabulous magic design and  performed by Watkins and Rapley.

Dennis Watkins is a fabulous and fearless magician as evidenced by his underwater in a locked crate Houdini trick performed in a House show a few years back. In The Magnificents, Watkins pays tribute to his grandfather, Ed Watkins,
the man who taught Dennis the magic of magic. This is a warmly human story of the aging magician (played  by Dennis Watkins) and his loyal wife (Tien Doman).

We see the old guard showman in his twilight years when a young red headed man (Tommy Rapley) quietly invades the magician’s home. The old man decides, after Rosie insists, to teach the boy his magic. In a most thrilling display
of magic including card tricks, the dancing hanky, the vanishing birdcage, the canary birdcage plus the classic red ball under one of three cups, Watkins and Rapley thrill us with the powers of illusions.

Dennis Watkins is a fine actor, funny comic and spellbinding magician. he has emerged as one of the finest magicians in the USA.  He anchors this entertaining  show.  Tommy Rapley is the mute young protégé whose only words come
 at the shows end. Rapley says much with his face, eyes and body language.

The sheer energy and exuberance made this device endear the production. Laughs abound with these three zany clowns. They also do some magic tricks.The touching story of an old guard magician slowly dying but refusing to stop doing
 his act demonstrated Watkins acting skills. the story is heartwarming and engaging. The magic will blow you away!

I enjoyed this show and I only wish there was more back story about the boy to compliment the wonderful magic.  Still, The Magnificents is a fun night at the theatre. The House of Chicago keeps their originality going strong. Kudos for
 remounting this terrific show".

"The Magnificents" (House Theatre): MAGNIFICENT! - Katy Walsh, The  "To make braving last night’s ice storm worth it, a show has to be pretty magnificent.  Well, TA-DA…

The House Theatre of Chicago presents THE MAGNIFICENTS.  It’s 1933 in Small Town, USA.  Magnificent is an aging magician.  He and his wife Rosie have assembled a band of misfits for their traveling circus.   Under their big top, people gather to be entertained by the amazing feats.  HoneyDew twirls from aerial silks.  Chase provides the comic buffoonery.  And Harley impresses as a strongman.  And of course, Magnificent, himself,  mystifies the crowds with his mind-blowing magic.  After a young show crasher is caught stealing, the makeshift family have to decide if there is room in their hearts for one more.  THE MAGNIFICENTS *are* The Magnificents!

Playwright Dennis Watkins has penned an ode to his grandfather.  First, introduced in 2007, THE MAGNIFICENTS returns renewed and refreshed.  And this resurrection is phenomenal!  Watkins’ story is not only a touching tribute to
 his past, it’s a beautiful sentiment of his present.  The idea of a make-your-own-family is powerful.  Under the skillful direction of Nathan Allen and the ringmaster magic of Watkins, I laughed, I cried, I wondered.  A charming showman,
quick-talking Watkins performs his brilliant illusions.  There are interactive acts that are just baffling marvels.  Everyone in the audience is left with eyes popping, mouth gaping, head scratching.  Watkins is indeed a wizard!  Allen also uses
 his special powers to pull a talented ensemble out of a truck.  Graceful Lucy Carapetyan (Honeydew/Aerial coach), spunky Tien Doman (Rosie), agile Tommy Rapley (Boy/Choreographer), hilarious Michael E. Smith (Chase), and stalwart
Jeff Trainor (Harley) are the spectacular, the one and only, the incredible: *The Magnificents*.

Set and Light Designer Lee Keenan creates the perfect truck for a traveling circus.   A big run-down truck folds out the dazzle with lights, curtains, smoke and mirrors.  It’s a casual stunner as the ordinary becomes the platform for the
extraordinary.  Costume Designer Melissa Torchia mixes up the elegant refinement of Watkins and Doman with the carnie garb of Carapetyan, Smith and Trainor.  The eclectic mish-mash adds a stylish sense of play.  It’s fun.  It’s lovely.
 It’s magic.  Watkins called it! Every aspect of THE MAGNIFICENTS is magnificent.

Right now, THE MAGNIFICENTS may be the best show on earth!  Get your tickets before Watkins & crew perform their vanishing act".

Dennis Watkins

Nathan Allen

Dennis Watkins, Tien Doman, Lucy Carapetyan, Tommy Rapley, Michael E. Smith, Jeff Trainor. Understudies - Chad Hauge; Lindsey Dorcus.

Stage Manager - Amanda Frechette; Scenic & Light Design - Lee Keenan; Video Designer - Jack Lawrence Mayer; Composer/Music Director - Kevin O'Donnell; Costume Designer - Melissa Torchia; Sound Designer - Jeff Kelley; Asst Director - Gaby Labotka; Asst Director - Dav Yendler; Asst Scenic Designer - Tim Dilling; Asst Light Designer - Emma Deane; Asst Costume Designer - Emily Tarleton; Properties Master - Angela Campos; Asst Stage Manager - Kelly Claussen; Technical Direcction - Left Wing Scenic & Steve Pesich; Master Electrician - Will Dean; Asst Master Electician - Clare Roche; Costume Manager - Mieka Van Der Ploeg; Wardrobe Supervisor - Sharon Limpert; Scenic Paitner - Zhanna Albertini

Tags: Theater, American, 2013