All this week, “The Doug Henning Project” is fortunate to be printing excerpts from “Magic Show” director Grover Dale’s upcoming autobiography. Mr. Dale has been gracious enough to allow the chapter devoted to “The Magic Show” to be previewed here, and what a chapter it is!
As you will see all this week, “The Magic Show” was a combination of many moving parts that came together to create a certain kind of Broadway magic.
My First Directing Job on Broadway
Like weddings, Broadway miracles pop up out of nowhere. After celebrating marriage to Anita Morris in 1974, an unexpected call from a producer comes in. Edgar Lansbury asks if I’m willing to check out a magician in Toronto to determine if twelve illusions can be made into a musical. Is he kidding? Develop a magician’s twelve illusions into a Broadway project?
Sensing my resistance to Lansbury’s idea, Anita silently unpins my last royalty check of $78 for from a bulletin board, waves it in the air, and dances merrily around the kitchen. Okay. I totally get it, Anita. I can’t afford to say no to any project right now. ‘Yes, Mr. Lansbury,’ I respond, ‘I’ll be happy to look at your magician and his twelve illusions. What did you say his name was?’
Twenty-Four Hours Later.
In ‘Spellbound,’ Doug Henning appears in a sequined tuxedo, top hat, and rhinestone-studded platform shoes. Throughout a rockstar-style presentation, he came across slightly stiff and awkward. His twelve illusions, however, are absolutely mind-boggling.
Backstage, Anita and I were surprised seeing how comfortable Doug is in a t-shirt and jeans. Sweet, likable, and charming. Wow. If we unlock that sweet kid-next-door quality onstage, we will have a winner. The next morning, my thoughts are shared with Edgar Lansbury, who immediately asks about arranging a meeting with the songwriter, Stephen Schwartz.
‘Is that the same Stephen Schwartz who did ‘Pippin’ and ‘Godspell?’ ‘Yes,’ Lansbury replies, ‘he’s also the man who saw what you did with Houdini at the Berkshire Theatre Festival, and thought Henning’s project would be ideal for you.’ ‘Set it up,’ I respond, ‘I’ll be delighted to share my ideas with him.’