Brian Lumley: “Magic Show” Secrets

How did Spellbound end up on Broadway?

Ivan Reitman, Spellbound’s producer/director, put an ad in Variety which was published Dec. 19/73. This was the pre-production week. Joe Berhu and Edgar Lansbury saw the ad and came to take a look. By the end of the week Broadway was in the air. We set up shop in the garage of the Cherry Lane Theater in early February/74.

How was the experience of “Spellbound” different than “The Magic Show?”

Spellbound was Doug’s story so he and Ivan built the show around him and his magic. Broadway has its own formula that had to be followed. There was music, staging, dialog, dancers, the book, scenery, production value… Where did the magic fit in? What were the people coming to see?

Doug was in control of Spellbound, the magic came first. Broadway did not understand the power of the magician’s trade and wanted control of the whole performance. Doug was willing to give it to them provided the magic came first. Of course, the rest of the creative department wanted to be first and put the magic way down the list. Doug had to deal with this all through rehearsals and pre-production – literally arguing for magic rehearsal time.

This loggerhead was not necessarily a bad thing. It made Doug practice more by himself which inevitably improved his skills and performance. Doug knew he had to be better than good or he would be swept under the carpet. He knew he had to steal the show.
The producers wanted a Godspell type show. One they could put on the road and sell franchises around the world. Doug did not see it that way.

What was an average day like at The Magic Show?

Sorry I cannot remember an average day at any time I worked for Doug. There must have been, but we were under constant stress trying to put the magic together, or repairing it, or dealing with breakdowns during performances… The average stage hand can come into the theater ten minutes before curtain and prep what they had to do. Glen and I were in at least an hour before curtain doing our preset and making sure, as best we could, that the illusions were going to work.

Often we were there until we were kicked out after the show. Many times we had to come in hours before call to get something fixed. There were many hidden horrors in The Magic Show, some we could not anticipate. Some things we knew were going to fail, we just didn’t know which performance was going to have to suffer… The show got into a regular routine but it was always a stress. We would congratulate ourselves each time an illusion worked properly.

Doug was doing lots of interviews and getting a good name for himself as soon as we opened at the Cort Theatre on Broadway. This meant dragging illusions all over NYC and down to Philadelphia. Before The Magic Show had played for a month Doug had met Muhammed Ali and his benefactor.

The illusions were crashing all over the stage and the house kept filling up. Magic was happening; talk of the 1st Special was always part of the buzz between us. It was our escape plan. I took the 1st National Tour out in November and started doing things I never thought I could do before. The learning curve was extremely steep for all of us, and so was the work load. Doug also went in a direction he hadn’t before, he started offering his training to magicians from other countries. As well as negotiating with NBC. See what I mean about an average day being hard to find?

What did you learn during this period that you still take with you? 

We all have a creative side and the trick is finding it. Stepping into Doug’s world opened up a whole new scene of creativity to me. Stepping into the theater opened up avenues of opportunity that I, at that point, never knew existed.

Doug’s world was part stage and part circus in several ways. I had the opportunity to practice my already verging skills and try out some new ones and invent others. I still carry out parts of the lessons from all the training I received while working for Doug.

The entertainment industry became my life’s work. I switched to the film industry because it was the most versatile. It also demanded the type of creativity I was good at. At the end of 45 years in the business I feel it has done me well.

Doug was a major influence in me developing my career.

To Be Continued…

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