Death & Harry Houdini


Marvel with us as Houdini battles Death once more!


Written and Directed by Nathan Allen
Magic by Dennis Watkins


After playing sold-out crowds in Chicago and Miami from January through August of 2012, multiple extensions were not enough to fill ticket demand for this dynamic, award-winning, magic-filled production. The full cast and design team return for a full 8 weeks at our Chopin Theatre home in Chicago.


A ringmaster leads us through the events of Harry’s life, all told through stunning magic, poignant dialogue and original music. We travel from the untimely passing of his father, through his first tent shows with his younger brother Theo, meeting his wife Bess, and beginning a journey towards fame on the Vaudeville circuit. All the while, Harry feels Death close on his heels and he won’t rest until he’s conquered him once and for all. Harry will walk on broken glass, swallow razor blades and risk his life in the Water Torture Cell, but will he pull off an escape from Death? Marvel with us as Houdini battles Death once more.

Show Dates: Jun 21 2013 to Aug 18 2013 Location:

The Chopin Theatre 
1543 W. Division St., Chicago, IL





  • Stage Manager
  • Sara Hoeferlin
    Assistant Stage Manager
  • Bridgid Danahy
    Wardrobe Supervisor
  • Will Dean
    Master Electrician
  • Katie Beeks
    Sub Run Crew
  • Left Wing Scenic
    Technical Direction
  • HMS Media
    Video Production
  • Bryan Schutze
    Fish Master
  • Robert Van Valkenburg
    Fish Master
  • Rachel Regan
    Sub Audio Engineer


  • Scenic Designer
  • Costume Designer
  • Lighting Designer
  • Composer/Co-Sound Designer
  • Harrison Adams
    Co-Sound Designer
  • Rachel Finn
    Properties Master
  • Amy Hilber
    Costume Manager
  • William C. Kirkham
    Assistant Lighting Designer
  • Jeff Kelley
    Assistant Sound Designer
  • Jenna Moran
    Sound Engineer
  • Fight Choreographer
  • Sally Weiss
    Assistant Scenic Designer
Theatrical Trailer
The Prologue

(In the Chopin Lobby, Friday June 14) 

Audience: If you’ve already done this show, why does tech take so much time still? What goes into doing a remount?

           Lee Keenan: First of all, the script and story have seen some changes and adjustments, so we need the time to work those in.

            Just now you saw a lot of holding for lights. Ben’s design is very detailed, with moving lights tracking Houdini’s path.  Our electricians try hang the lights in the exact same position as last time, but even a few inches difference means Ben needs time to reprogram. The specificity of the design makes the time well worth it.   But if you thought that was slow you should be here when we do something for the first time when we are discovering new challenges.  For example, you saw Dennis lifted in the straight jacket on a motorized chain winch. Well, the first time we did that we discovered the profoundly unsexy noise the motor makes. So unsexy that we all thought, “Wow, are we going to be able to use this mechanism at all?”  But our sound designer was able to step up and create a layered industrial soundscape that buried the motor’s groan into the texture of the world.  Super cool, but the first time out that need has to be discovered, and those sounds found and edited

            Perhaps most important reason is practice, practice, practice. That’s one reason why we introduce costumes so early (they were there on day one of tech). The new wardrobe crew needs the practice of getting a quick change in their bodies. With enough drilling, a two-minute costume change can plummet to a lightening 38-second quick change.  If you’ve seen our Nutcracker you know a costume change can be a magic trick in itself.

A: How does a House tech compare to others?

           LK: I’d say it’s most similar to a big musical theatre tech.  I’m a big believer in an idea called “contract with the audience.” An audience will embrace any theatrical convention out there so long as you properly introduce them to the toolkit in the first two minutes of the show. So the start of any tech anywhere is always hard and extremely slow because you are establishing the world of the play, its style, its tone, it’s conventions. It’s a first impression and you have to get that right. It’s the same at The House. What’s distinctive about The House is how many theatrical tools we use in the same production. We’ll have magic, moving scenery, moving lights, fog, super detailed sound design, microphones, original recorded music, original live music, dance, animals, a guy on stilts, mask work, puppets, crazy impossible costume changes, and really honest scene work . Death and Harry Houdiniis all about dark sexy spectacle, magic, and flash, so the opening reflects it. As of now, there are about 80 cues in the first five minutes of the show, which is more than some more minimalist shows use in the entire two hours.

            Luckily, since we’ve spent so much time with this particular play, the tech process is pretty smooth. On average, it takes about 20 minutes of technical rehearsal to get through 1-2 minutes of this remount. That time is at least doubled for an original piece. It certainly helps that, for the most part, the entire creative team is back. We have one new actor and a couple new crew members, but little else has changed in terms of who’s running the show. Which is great, it means more of our energy, creativity and ambitions go into plussing up the show.

A: What are the rehearsal hours like?

            LK: On average, the actors are rehearsing between 20 and 30 hours a week before tech. Once tech arrives, however, that jumps to around 40 - 50 hours, and the actors are joined by crew members and designers. Don’t worry—they’re given plenty of breaks to eat and see at least a little bit of sunlight!

A: Who was that guy yelling “go” a lot?

LK: That was the Stage Manager the “unsung hero” of a performance. Stage Managers are really artists that run the show by calling cues, managing the actors, and fine tuning where moments end and start. It’s up to them to know when a moment is over and to move the show forward into the next light cue.  Lets say a big magic trick just finished, the stage manager takes cue to bump up the lights and simultaneously a sound flourish cue. This is called a button and it lets the audience know that trick is over and if you’ve been wanting to applaud well now’s the time. Now is where the artistry comes in. We like the show to run tightly and quickly, but if Brian takes the cues for the next scene too early the actors will start it while the applause is so loud that we’ll miss important information and that whole scene will make no sense. But if he waits till the applause dies down there will be an awkward pause, a lull in the action; and any momentum we’ve built up is squandered. So the Stage Manager has to fell out when the applause has crested so the following scene can ride the energy wave of the scene preceding it.  Like many skills it becomes instinct, but its something that takes training and years or experience to master.


We can’t wait to show you how a House favorite has evolved after over a hundred performances in two cities. Come join us for our very special remount of Death and Harry Houdini, which begins performing this Friday and will disappear once again on August 11!

Special Events at Death and Harry Houdini


Saturday, July 6th
After the 8pm performance, stick around for a Q&A with the cast. FREE


Sunday, July 7th
After the 4pm matinee, 3rd Generation magician and star of the show will give a close-up magic performance! Ticket packages including the play and the close-up show are just $70 per person. Space is limited!


Sunday, August 4th
Before the 4pm matinee, join us to hear about the development process for this hit production, how it has evolved over its 11 year history, and what Nathan and Dennis are planning next. Talk begins at 3:15pm. FREE