Wednesday, September 9, 2020

335. THE MAGIC SHOW. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Doug Henning.

THE MAGIC SHOW [Musical/Nightclub/Show Business] B: Bob Randall; M/LY; Stephen Schwartz; D/CH: Grover Dale; S: David Chapman; C: Randy Barcelo; L: Richard Nelson; P: Edgar Lansbury, Joseph Beruh, and Ivan Reitman; T: Cort Theatre; 5/28/74-12/31/78 (1,920)

Doug Henning, Dale Soules, David Ogden Stiers.

The Magic Show had an extremely fragile and rather foolish book; moreover, its songs and dances could barely claim to be distractions. Still, it ran up a profitable number of performances during its four and a half years on Broadway. The critics may have agreed with Clive Barnes that “the show is awful,” but they urged theatregoers to see it because the whole “feeble” thing, as Douglas Watt called it, was really nothing but an excuse to provide sensational young illusionist Doug Henning with a narrative framework within which he could mesmerize audiences with mind and eye-boggling illusions.

Ronald Stafford, Dale Soules, Doug Henning, Lloyd Sannes.

In a rundown New Jersey nightclub, the Top Hat, where a has-been alcoholic magician named Feldman (David Ogden Stiers) holds forth tipsily, the manager (Robert Lupone) opts for a new conjuring act to stimulate business. He ends up with the dynamic Doug (Henning), who is promptly snapped up for Broadway by a savvy producer. The critics wished that Henning could have made this book and its accompanying songs disappear as easily as he did the objects in his act.

Annie McGreevy, David Ogden Stiers, Cheryl Barnes, Doug Henning.

The tall, skinny, toothsome, 27-year-old star—his long hair and drooping mustache giving him the look of a boyish hippie—astonished the Broadway world with the imaginativeness and skill of his routines. He used all the traditional devices of magicianry, but always with a difference that made them seem startlingly fresh. His tricks showed women being sawn in half, shredded newspapers putting themselves back together, a woman being levitated, feats of escapology, the use of three stacked boxes in which living body parts were constantly being rearranged, the transformation of a woman into a cougar, a woman’s incineration, and so forth.

“He is the greatest illusionist I have ever seen. . . . He is amazing,” shouted Clive Barnes. “His illusions are so nearly perfect that I haven’t the slightest idea how many of them are brought about,” enthused Brendan Gill. “Hemming’s ‘illusions’ are truly astounding,” saluted John Simon. Similar encomiums were expressed by everyone else, just as they all had such words to toss at the show itself as “silly” (Edwin Wilson), “saccharine” (T.E. Kalem), “superfluous” (John Beaufort), “clumsy and . . . obvious” (Martin Gottfried), and “dreary, unimaginative” (Simon).

Cast members included Anita Morris, Dale Soules, Sam Schacht, and others.

The Magic Show garnered Tony nominations for Best Supporting Actor, Musical (Henning was relegated to supporting actor for this honor), and Best Director, Musical.