A Regular Little Houdini: Three Tall Amazements, But Little Else.
I really wanted to like this. A story that revolves around a kid in the coastal town of Newport, South Wales, obsessed with performing magic and the magnificent Harry Houdini, how could that not be at least fun. With a few magic tricks specifically created for the show by two magicians: Adrian Solar and Tom Silburn, how could that not be fun? So to say the least, writer and performer, Daniel Llewelyn-Williams (West End’s 39 Steps), has a very appealing wide-eyed presence and a quality that makes you want him to succeed. He’s a charmer of a man and performer, making him a better story teller than a writer. When he gets into the meat of a really good tale, and there are a few in A Regular Little Houdini, currently be presented at 59E59 Theaters, we are drawn in and held in an exciting state of suspense waiting to hear the outcome of his tales, but the bigger picture, as directed by Josh Richards (Rosebud – The Lives of orson Welles) lacks focus and dynamic tension from start to finish.
The stage is bare besides the suitcase Llewelyn-Williams carries in with him. The lighting is simple but generally effective as the story jumps from persona to persona. A greater focus on dynamic visuals or projections might have helped draw us into this tale, but the show itself feels unfocused in overarching theme and purpose. It takes a good amount of time to get to the first compelling tale of adventure, with a great deal of meandering. I found myself lost in the direction of this story at certain moments during this 85 minute one-man show, especially when he told the fantastical tale revolving around his grandfather. There is a fire in his belly when he talks about his father and his grandfather, but I still wasn’t quite sure how we got into a tale involving a Cyclops, and what the purpose of it was, beyond a boy’s worshipping of his elders. Only later did I see the loose connection, and I’m not sure it was enough of a loop beyond the obvious.
But when Llewelyn-Williams has a truly captivating yarn to tell, and he has three; his first ‘amazement’ revolving around the Newport Transporter Bridge, Houdini’s 1913 leap from the Newport Bridge, manacled, into the River Usk, and the docks disaster that happened in this Welsh town, he has us fully engaged.The last two are true stories that you can also read about in the program, but I suggest only reading them post show because almost all the thrills of the story will be told in the program. I had a hard time visualizing the last one, the horrific sounding tragedy of the Newport Docks Disaster, but the emotional impact is strong and effective. He sure can pull you in when the narrative is there, but work needs to be done to weave these components into a solid coming of age story. And more magic, much more magic is needed, literally and figuratively speaking.
The ending, something I generally hate to discuss in my review, is a bit confusing and disappointing. Without saying too much, there is a flutter and a pop, but it’s definitely not what we were hoping for as vague as that sounds. I guess I expected something magical and surprising in every aspect of the word, something very Houdini-like from this tenacious man, something brave and exciting, a grand flourish, but what we are given is only pedestrian and much less than what was hoped for. With a flip from the magician’s cape, the dreams of this young man, desperate for escape from the brutal Welsh working-class reality stumbles to its conclusion.