Showing posts with label The Palmer House. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Palmer House. Show all posts

Monday, July 6, 2020


Tickets on Sale Now for Virtual Performances 
Every Friday and Saturday in July
(Great for ages 12+ through adults of all ages)

By Bonnie Kenaz-Mara

Friday night, my son and I ditched our quarantine casual wardrobes, donned cocktail party attire, and settled in to enjoy opening night of an interactive magic show in real time. The audience included folks from multiple states and even Mexico. It was at once familiar and completely new. In the era of Covid-19, when all live shows have gone dark, Dennis Watkins has worked nothing short of real magic, creating an astonishing social distancing show that still feels remarkably intimate and engaging. 

Like his acclaimed Palmer House iteration of Magic Parlour that's been wowing people for 9 years now, audience members are called on to assist with every trick. As individuals were called on via Zoom, our screens would appear, inset in the larger image of Dennis' show. We got to introduce ourselves and where we were watching from, then join in the fun as magician's assistant. 

With all mics unmuted, the interconnection of show goers was palpable, with audible applause, laughter, and reactions, missing from so much theatre online. It was also fun to catch a sneak peak "behind the curtain" as Dennis gave us a quick tour of his home studio space, designed specifically to morph remote magic into table magic, in your own home! Theatre people are nothing if not creative, and Dennis has discovered a way to reinvent post-covid parlour magic and storytelling in a way that works wonderfully.

The $75 ticket price may seem a bit spendy for an online show, but you can bring the whole family or a party of friends, all included in the base price, as long as you're watching in the same location on one screen. And this is no prerecorded piece. This is personal and worth every penny. 

As a third generation magician, Dennis' shows are a bit family history, a whole lot of mystery, and pure joy. We're no strangers to the Magic Parlour shows. I did a video interview with Dennis back in 2012, and I'd seen his act years before that even, in the pre Palmer House days, when The Magic Parlour was in the basement of Chicago's beloved House Theatre. 

So much has changed in the intervening decade, even pre-coronavirus. Dennis Watkins is a father to an adorable toddler now, and has been featured on Penn and Teller: Fool Us. Since opening at The Palmer House on New Year’s Eve of 2011, The Magic Parlour has enjoyed phenomenal success and unimagined growth. With fewer than 50 seats available per show, The Magic Parlour has entertained over 45,000 guests in its nine-year run. Additionally, it has hosted more than 1,300 ticketed audiences and dozens of private groups, facilitated three truly magical wedding proposals, and has been featured in two books (Chicago Magic: A History of Stagecraft and Spectacle and 100 Things to do in Chicago Before You Die).

I've taken my whole family and several lucky friends to Magic Parlour at Palmer House over the years, catching the show a handful of times, and it's always just as baffling and brilliant as the first time. Even with a jump to Zoom now, Dennis' world class prestidigitation, storytelling, and showmanship hasn't changed. The pandemic may be winning in the world at large this July, but it can't keep a great magician down. 

One of our favorite new bits is a group card trick where everyone brings their own deck. Despite copious amounts of shuffling, ripping of cards, putting a bit aside, and discarding of varied numbers of half cards (different for everyone), we all ended up reuniting two of our half cards in the end! In a time when disconnection from family and friends is taking a toll on everyone, this group magic was particularly gratifying. The whole show was a welcome and invaluable break from reality.

My son was called on for a mind reading bit, traditionally done in person with books, cleverly converted to cellphone. Dugan secretly picked Narwhals (his favorite animal) on Wikipedia from millions of possible entries, then randomly 
highlighted a word from the article that happened to be recommended. Even remotely, Dennis successfully divined both and wrote them in sharpie, amazing and amusing us all! I've got to agree with that choice and add another word... highly. “THE MAGIC PARLOUR AT HOME” is highly recommended. Don't miss this!

Bonnie Kenaz-Mara is a Chicago based writer-theater critic-photographer-videographer-actress-artist-general creatrix and Mama to two terrific teens. She owns two websites where she publishes frequently: (adult) & (family friendly). 

Tickets on Sale Now for Virtual Performances Every Friday and Saturday in July

Famed third-generation magician, Dennis Watkins, is taking his one-of-a-kind magical experience The Magic Parlour online for a completely new virtual offering dubbed “The Magic Parlour at Home.” The new virtual magic show, designed for group and family viewings, will offer multiple performances every Friday and Saturday evening in July. After the roaring success of several livestreams hosted on The Magic Parlour’s Facebook page, Watkins developed “The Magic Parlour at Home” to dazzle audiences with new and interactive magic and mind reading available directly on their screens.

Tickets are now on sale for $75 and can be purchased online at A maximum of 30 tickets will be sold for each performance and each ticket will admit one “household” or up to 10 guests on one screen. All performances will take place via Zoom and require a computer with a functioning camera and microphone to participate as well as a high-speed internet connection. After tickets are purchased, patrons will receive an email containing instructions and a link to access the performance.

“During this time, I’ve learned to adapt my craft to be able to virtually perform the same caliber of magic my guests have come to expect from my performances at the Palmer House,” said Watkins. “The new acts I’ve created for The Magic Parlour at Home will provide a truly engaging and participatory magical experience for my virtual audience.”

"The Magic Parlour at Home” is recommended for adult audiences. Guests ages 12 and up are welcome to join, while guests under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. For a fully immersive experience, guests are recommended to sport cocktail attire and bring their own deck of cards.

A complete list of performance dates and times is below. Additional 9:30 p.m. performances may be added subject to demand:

Friday, July 3: performances at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 4: no performances due to Independence Day
Friday, July 10: performances at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 11: performance at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 17: performance at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 18: performance at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 24: performance at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 25: performance at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 31: performance at 7:30 p.m.

For complete details and information on “The Magic Parlour at Home” and Watkins’ other virtual experiences including corporate and private events, teambuilding workshops and magic lessons, please visit:

Check out my 2012 interview with Dennis Watkins here for a blast from the past:

About The Magic Parlour
The Magic Parlour is an intimate evening of classic magic and mind-reading featuring the work of third-generation magician Dennis Watkins. Guests to this intimate, magic-packed evening gather at Potter's in the Palmer House lobby before Watkins personally escorts them to the performance space. Once inside, the audience participates in much of the performance as Watkins wows the room with classic sleight of hand, unbelievable mind-reading and magical wisdom passed down from his grandfather.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019


ChiIL Live Shows on our radar


I've caught The Magic Parlour every few years, since it's early days in the eclectic basement digs of Chopin Theatre. Back in 2012 I had the great pleasure of interviewing mystifying magician, Dennis Watkins, in his home. Check it out here:

Dennis Watkins expounds on being Harry Houdini in Death and Harry Houdini for Chicago's House Theatre and being his own magical self in the long running Magic Parlour show. He's done the water torture cell escape upwards of 100 times now! He also discusses the history of the show as it's evolved since 2001 and his own family history of magicians.

Since then, Watkins has moved up in the world, out of the cellar and into the elegant Palmer House Hilton Hotel! The Magic Parlour is a top pick of ours for tourists and locals alike. Watkins is charismatic, charming, and utterly baffling, while remaining refreshingly free of ego. The Magic Parlour show and Potter's Palmer House local are classic Chicago and truly a treat. 

Over the past eight years, my husband, kids, and friends have joined me at various Magic Parlour performances, and all have been amazed and well entertained by Dennis Watkins' close magic. Watkins remains one of our favorite premiere prestidigitators. We're excited to celebrate his 1,000th performance this month, as star in the longest currently running magic show in Chicago. Highly recommended! 

Dennis Watkins, a renowned third-generation magician and mentalist, has baffled and bemused audiences with his performance of The Magic Parlour. Produced by The House Theatre of Chicago, Watkins reaches a milestone on January 25 when he presents his 1,000th performance in the longest currently running magic show in Chicago. Each week, intimate audiences of just 44 guests are treated to 90 minutes of tom-foolery through close-up magic and mystifying mentalism at the storied Palmer House, a Hilton Hotel, 17 E. Monroe. The 1,000th show will be performed Friday, Jan. 25 at 9:30 p.m. While seating is limited for this milestone performance, the open run show continues in its season of five shows weekly thereafter. To find more about Watkins and The Magic Parlour, visit

“When we conjured up The Magic Parlour, it was a once-weekly late-night show in Wicker Park. Finding our home at the Palmer House on New Year’s Eve 2011 helped us evolve this project into the sophisticated production it is today. The audience’s imagination is at the heart of a truly magical and personal experience,” says Watkins.

The Palmer House has a rich history filled with hosting nearly a century’s worth of legendary magic performers including Chicago native and world-renowned magician Harry Blackstone, Sr., Paul Rosini, Richard Cardini, Ching Ling Fu and others. Watkins’ unsurpassed milestone at the historic venue is a testament to his ability to meld the best of magic’s captivating draw with a modern show, keeping the allure of Chicago’s deep-rooted magic scene alive for locals and visitors alike.

Available for only The Magic Parlour ticket holders, guests can toast the occasion with a magical cocktail and a special prix-fixe Magic Menu dinner at Lockwood Restaurant & Bar at Palmer House throughout February. 

I can attest, their food is fantastic! 

“I keep the show fresh by adding new material throughout each year, always diving deeper into the lessons about inspiring wonder my grandad imparted to me.  With both believers and skeptics participating, every show is a one-of-a-kind happening,” explains Watkins.

The Magic Parlour is an upscale event and cocktail attire is encouraged. The show is open to guests ages 12 and older. Tickets for The Magic Parlour are $79 or $89 each, which includes wine, beer and soft drinks served during the performance. The prix-fixe Magic Menu at Lockwood Restaurant & Bar costs $41 per person, all inclusive, and dinner reservations can be reserved at the time of ticketing.

Purchase tickets at or by calling The House Theatre of Chicago Box Office at 773-769-3832. 

Dennis Watkins is a third-generation magician who travels the country bringing world-class magic to the world's largest companies, as well as exclusive private and society events.

Watkins' critically-acclaimed one-man-show, The Magic Parlour, has been running at the Palmer House Hilton Hotel in downtown Chicago for seven years. Produced by The House Theatre of Chicago, The Magic Parlour is an intimate evening of classic magic and impossible mind-reading in a private suite at one of Chicago's most historic and noteworthy hotels. 

As a Company Member with The House Theatre of Chicago, Watkins has written, acted, and directed and performed in over 21 world-premiere productions. He appears as one of America’s greatest magicians in The House’s production of Death & Harry Houdini, including a death-defying nightly performance of the Water Torture Cell. Houdini has played seven times in Chicago over The House’s 17-year history. With awards and honors from the Texas Association of Magicians, the Society of American Magicians, the International Brotherhood of Magicians, and the Desert Magic Seminar, Dennis specializes in creating unforgettable magical experiences for each and every one of his audiences. The Chicago-based magician was honored to be an invited guest on Penn & Teller’s Fool Us television show.

The Magic Parlour starring Dennis Watkins is an intimate evening of classic magic and mind-reading featuring the work of the third-generation magician. Guests to this intimate, magic-packed evening gather at Potter's in the Palmer House lobby before Watkins personally escorts them to the performance space. Once inside, the audience participates in much of the performance as Watkins wows the room with classic sleight of hand, unbelievable mind-reading and magical wisdom passed down from his grandfather. 

Since finding its home at The Palmer House on New Year’s Eve of 2011, The Magic Parlour has enjoyed phenomenal success and unimagined growth.  With only 44 seats available per show, The Magic Parlour has entertained over 30,000 guests for nearly 1,000 ticketed audiences and dozens of private groups, facilitated three truly magical wedding proposals, and has been featured in two books (Chicago Magic: A History of Stagecraft and Spectacle and 100 Things to do in Chicago Before You Die).

The House is Chicago's premier home for intimate, original works of epic story and stagecraft. Founded in 2001, led by Artistic Director Nathan Allen, and driven by an interdisciplinary ensemble of Chicago’s next generation of great storytellers, The House aims to become a laboratory and platform for the evolution of the American theatre as an inclusive and popular art form.

Since becoming eligible in 2004, The House has won 22 Joseph Jefferson Awards, became the first recipient of Broadway in Chicago’s Emerging Theater Award in 2007, and was awarded a 2014 National Theatre Company Grant by the American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony Awards®. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

Dennis Watkins Video Interview-Death and Harry Houdini Closing #video interview

Dennis Watkins on the art of being Harry Houdini

The House Theatre's smash hit, Death and Harry Houdini, reaches the end of it's final extension today.   This is, without a doubt, one of our favorite shows of the year.   

We published this interview with the show's lead, Dennis Watkins, back in the spring on Facebook and Twitter, but want it to live on in a searchable archive form, so we're breaking it back out at both ChiIL Live and ChiIL to celebrate the show's close.

It was our great pleasure to be invited to Dennis' lovely northside home.   His passion for magic extends from the stage to his after hours, where he surrounds himself with vintage magic props that have been in the family, collector posters of renowned magicians, and even a Houdini coffee table volume.    Check out "the magician's lair" here.

We got a rare peek into the home of magic man, Dennis Watkins, star of Death and Harry Houdini, The House Theatre's smash, sell out hit. His love of magic goes beyond his roles in Magic Parlour and Death and Harry Houdini. He's a 3rd generation magician whose home decor includes vintage tricks from his Grandfather's shop and sweet magic show posters, for his own endeavors and others. A big show banner from The House Theatre's first incarnation of Death and Harry Houdini 10 years ago, hangs just inside his front door.

In our interview, Dennis expounds on the history of the show, Death and Harry Houdini, and it's numerous reincarnations with The House Theatre since 2001.   He gives insight into how to prep for the physically and mentally challenging role and how being successful at illusion isn't about ego and mastering trick, but it's all about the magic and wonder going on in the audience's heads.

My husband and I caught Death and Harry Houdini opening night and loved it so much I spent months trying to buy tickets to take the kids back to see it.    The run originally sold out in minutes, and although I was stalking their Facebook page, every time a trickle of tickets became available, they got scooped up before I could get my finger on the button.    

We finally scored a block of tickets and my kids were able to see the show for my son's March birthday, with one of his best friends.   As I'd expected, the kids were enamored with the show and amazed with the acting and the illusions.    We all sincerely hope that this is not the last we've seen of Harry Houdini, skillfully brought back to life by Chi-town's own magician extraordinaire, Dennis Watkins!

“A highly polished and visually thrilling show…

- Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

“…high energy, buzzy blend of traditional storytelling, music and spectacle…

– Kris Vire, Time Out Chicago

“Soars on Dennis Watkins’ brilliance as a genuine magician and fearless stuntman…

– Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun-Times


We've seen numerous productions by The House Theatre over the years and they do not disappoint.   We highly recommend you check out their 11th season.

(click the show title for tickets and more info)

Next up:


August 31st, 2012 to October 21st, 2012

A myth of crowns and country

By Chris Mathews and Nathan Allen
Directed by Nathan Allen
Original Music by Kevin O’Donnell
Choreography by Tommy Rapley

Featuring Company Members Cliff Chamberlain and Joey Steakley
From the writer/director of ‘Death and Harry Houdini’ comes a new epic journey filled with heated battles and life-size puppets.
Our unsuspecting hero, Casper Kent, is the son of a poor farmer. When an old storyteller reveals that Casper is the rightful heir to the throne, his life is threatened from all sides. Young Casper must escape the rebels, choose compatriots and question what is good and right for the land. Join him on his quest to lift the magical hammer that will unite or destroy them all.

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

Tickets start at $25

"A sophisticated night-cap. You’ll be mightily impressed! "

“A perfect evening of illusion and laughter… The Magic Parlour transformed a roomful of tired adults into wide-eyed, wide awake innocents. And that in itself is Watkins’ most impressive trick.

“This late-night magic show is exactly what it should be: funny, lively, intimate, and utterly baffling.”

“This was perfect. Perfect venue, perfect magician. I just can’t possibly comprehend how he does some of these things. See this.”

“It’s a mind-blowing, parlour-style magic show. This isn’t kiddie birthday party magic — it’s a little more sinister, darker. MUST SEE.”

“This is a magic show that leaves you speechless.”

Dennis Watkins can still be seen performing
The Magic Parlour every Friday night at The Palmer House.

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