Monday, February 4, 2019

Review of “Magic Parlour” at Palmer House Hilton: Performance # 1,000!

ChiIL Live Shows on our radar

“My goal is not to fool you, but to encourage a sense of wonder,”
--Dennis Watkins, cool, entertaining, and fun magician/mentalist

by catherine hellmann 

Attending a magic show is a blast. Attending a cocktail event at the gorgeous Palmer House-Hilton is a special event. Seeing magician Dennis Watkins perform his 1,000th sold-out show in the stunning Chicago venue is astounding. What a treat! 

Phone photos below by Chris Meza

As Dennis himself observed, after being given a special proclamation on behalf of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, “If selling out 1,000 shows is not magic, I don’t know what is!”

Dennis Watkins is a third-generation magician. As a boy, he dreamed of doing huge “tricks,” like the typical “saw-the-lady-in-half” routine or making “elephants vanish.” But his grandfather encouraged him that the most powerful magic is sleight of hand performance that “requires your thoughts, your choices, and your actions to create something miraculous.” To demonstrate this point, Mr. Watkins said his grandfather modeled the philosophy by using a spool of thread. Following his grandfather’s lead, he unwound a long piece of white string, then broke it into several pieces. He wadded the string up and appeared to swallow it, washing it down with a sip of water. Then the youngest Mr. Watkins placed half a dozen razor blades into his mouth! “Tastes like Schick!” he quipped, downing them with more water. To the relief and delight of our audience, the razor blades emerged from his mouth individually, tied to the now-restored piece of string! And he seemed no worse for the wear, unlike if I attempted this and wound up in the emergency room with a team of health professionals shaking their heads…”You did WHAT?!”

One aspect of The Magic Parlour which can’t be duplicated is Watkins’ wonderfully charming personality. I especially love his interactions with the crowd; his enthusiasm and playfulness is so funny and alluring. Having an audience member write down a secret word, he chided, “I do want the marker back; I am on a budget.” And he teased another audience member,”Write down your name, Matt, and let me know if you have any spelling questions. Oh, and it’s a magic marker!!” He is sure to show the crowd a great time. Taking out-of-town guests to the Palmer House for a magic show would be a sure bet for both impressing them and introducing them to the magic that exists in Chicago.

When I saw the show a couple years ago, Dennis had me roll a die while his back was turned. I covered the number while he guessed my number. He studied me, smiled, and observed,”You are a good liar.” I threw back,”I teach middle school.” He roared, along with the audience. His graciousness and adoration of what he does is so evident.

My date thought it was amazing when Dennis began a mind-reading segment by covering his eyes with coins, then two layers of duct tape (Again with the awesome humor: “I bought duct tape because it is the weekend!”) to prove he could not cheat at figuring out the inner thoughts of his volunteers. We were blown away at his prowess of "mentalism"!

Our “childlike wonder” was brought to life in The Magic Parlour performance by Dennis Watkins. If you have never seen this show, do yourself a favor and go. Take the family as a special treat. You will not be disappointed. Huzzah!

When not at the theater, Catherine Hellmann rides herd on 8th graders at work and two teens at home. She is continually sleep-deprived. 

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. 

ABOUT MAGICIAN DENNIS WATKINS 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.

ABOUT THE MAGIC PARLOUR 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).

ABOUT THE HOUSE THEATRE OF CHICAGO  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®. 

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