'Wizard of Crystal Lake' to perform at annual Nutcracker Holiday Tea Dec. 6
Glenn Chelius enjoys his role with the national accounts team at American Litho in Carol Stream. But he has fond memories of his first paying job -- as a 7-year-old magician performing at birthday parties, schools and community centers.
"I got my first magic set at age 5 and I've been hooked ever since," says the Crystal Lake resident, who spent countless hours learning and perfecting tricks with encouragement from his parents, Bob and Judy.
By age 10, Chelius had added live doves to his act. Later, at Carl Sandburg Junior High School in Rolling Meadows, he joined the magic club sponsored by math teacher Rich Bennecke, where he met and learned from other young illusionists.
"I slowed down for awhile in high school, but by college I was performing again," he says. And he hasn't stopped since.
Chelius loves seeing the smiles that bloom when he transforms a silk handkerchief into an egg or brings puppets to life through the art of ventriloquism. But opening doors for fellow performers and helping local arts organizations thrive has been the biggest thrill, he says.
Out for a walk one morning in 1993, he and his wife, Michelle, noticed a thermometer-style fundraising sign in the window of a rundown theater in Crystal Lake.
"The door was open, and we could see people working in a makeshift office inside," he recalls. "We asked what was happening and found out they were hoping to bring the venue back to life."
Chelius volunteered on the spot, and soon found himself designing a logo and a Fourth of July parade float -- all to build public support for what would soon become the Raue Center for the Arts.
"From the beginning I dreamed about staging an old-school magic show there," he says. "It's a beautiful 750-seat space built in 1929, really perfect for a live performance."
After joining the Raue marketing committee, he began talking with fellow performers about the possibilities. In 2002, they took to the stage with "Nothin' Up My Sleeve," a sold-out show that raised thousands to benefit the arts center.
"We put together the best magicians from the Midwest with a talented juggler and ventriloquist and the legendary Marshall Brodien as our emcee," Chelius says. Brodien, who entertained generations of kids on WGN-TV's popular "Bozo's Circus" and "The Bozo Show" from 1968 to 1994, was "absolutely great to work with."
Since then, Chelius has coproduced and performed in 13 annual benefits for the Raue, teaming up with fellow magician Nino Cruz and a zany cast of performers to create dazzling, family-friendly shows with something for everyone.
"We've had magicians, jugglers, ventriloquists, fire-eaters, plate-spinners, bubble-blowers, comedians, illusionists and hypnotists on stage," he says. Famous clowns, including Bozo and Wizzo (played by Marshall Brodien Jr.) have made appearances. At the 2015 fundraiser, held Sept. 20, Chelius and Cruz introduced Ronald McDonald to a cheering crowd of more than 500.
Planning shows and perfecting new tricks takes time, Chelius admits -- a real challenge, since his job with American Litho involves frequent travel. But performing keeps him on his toes.
"A few years back Vicki Summers, founder of the Berkshire Ballet Theatre, asked if I would perform as Herr Drosselmeyer in the 'Nutcracker.' I laughed, because I don't know how to dance! But they worked with me and I learned the steps, which were interwoven with magic tricks on stage. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Chelius counts himself lucky to have friends who host great parties year-round, giving him the chance to drop in dressed as Bozo, Santa or even the Easter Bunny. Over the years, he has added ventriloquism to his act with Henri, the wisecracking rabbit, and a Thanksgiving gobbler who has made appearances at the Turkey Testicle Festival in Huntley.
"I love to perform tricks that require an audience volunteer, especially children," he says. "That's when the real magic happens. I arrange it so they can do something amazing and take all the credit for it. Usually, they steal the show."
Though he has performed for thousands, Chelius says Michelle and the kids -- daughter Celine, 18, and sons Cole, 16 and Christian, 14 -- remain his biggest fans.
"They're teenagers now, so there's the occasional eye-roll, but mostly I think they have as much fun as I do."
Does he ever perform for American Litho clients? "I did some tabletop tricks at a recent meeting with a national publishing group," he says with a smile. "It was a fun way to spark ideas and get people talking."
Catch Glenn Chelius in the act on Sunday, Dec. 6 when he performs magic tricks as Herr Drosselmeyer at the annual Nutcracker Holiday Tea, hosted by the Summers Academy of Dance at the Turnberry Country Club in Lakewood. For tickets, call (815) 477-0033.