BERWYN — Paul Lee was just 10 years old when he received a magic kit for Christmas. Thanks to his parents’ encouragement, that first kit led to a career — the Carol Stream resident and illusionist has been a professional magician for more than 35 years.
Today, Lee performs at upwards of 300 shows each year for Chicago-area audiences, including in Berwyn this month. He can be found doing slight-of-hand tricks at family gatherings, birthday and holiday parties, corporate events and restaurants. Over the years, he’s been booked by schools and libraries and performs at festivals.
He even held the position of ringmaster for the Franzen Brothers Circus and headlined his own show for four years at Riverview Park and Waterworld in Wisconsin Dells.
Lee’s also shared his time and talent during hundreds of benefit shows. Then in 2007 when his niece, Teagan, was born with Down syndrome, it motivated him to help organizations serving people with the birth defect.
“I wanted to do something close to my heart,” Lee said.
As he was performing during a birthday party, Lee met National Association for Down Syndrome board member Anne Reinertson. The connection was the start of a collaboration with NADS, which resulted in a magic show fundraiser that Lee led last year, raising about $5,000 for the organization.
Now, Lee’s finalizing details for a second NADS fundraiser, “Believe in Magic II,” to be held at a bigger venue to raise more money for the cause. The second-annual show on Jan. 19 at Morton West High School will feature Lee and other local illusionists. Proceeds from the event will again go to NADS.
According to the group’s website, NADS was founded in 1961 in Chicago by parents of children with Down syndrome. The mission is ensuring that everyone with the disorder has the chance to achieve their potential. The group also offers information, support and advocacy.
Headlining the show is just the latest in a long line of performances Lee’s done for charitable organizations, including the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Starlight Children’s Foundation — an L.A.-based organization that aims improve lives for kids and families in hospitals around the world.
In addition, for 18 years he’s visited the Ronald McDonald House and pediatric ward at Loyola University Hospital, where he goes room to room performing for children.
For the upcoming show at Morton West, Lee recruited several well-known personalities to donate their time, including the Mysterious Chezaday; Bobby Hunt, aka Circus Boy; Chuck Field & Friends; Plaz Garcia; Karen Burris, clown, magician and singer; plus the show’s MC Ken Mate and his wife, Terri.
“Although he doesn’t want to take credit, Paul is the driving force for this event,” said NADS Executive Director Diane Urhausen. “What he does is just amazing ... . It is the generosity of all the performers that makes this fundraiser possible.”
Lee said he also plans to include his niece in his show. But he isn’t willing to reveal the details — at least just yet.
If you go
What: “Believe in Magic II,” co-hosted by the Morton West High School Parent Teacher Organization
When: 1 p.m. Jan. 19 (doors open at 12:30 p.m.)
Where: Morton West, 2400 Home Ave., Berwyn
Cost: Tickets cost $20 each for all ages and can be purchased online at nads.org or by calling 847-723-3136. Attendees with Down syndrome see the show for free.