Grover Dale Remembers “The Magic Show:” Stephen Schwartz and Beyond

Doug Lady IN Half

The Meeting that Triggered Broadway’s 8th Longest-Running Musical

Next day.  

From the moment I describe replacing Henning’s rock-star approach with the sweet-lovable-kid-next-door that he actually is, Stephen’s eyes light up.  It got even better as we shared the impact an over-the-top-and-much-older magician could make during attempts to steal Doug Henning’s illusions from him.  ‘A mad-cap romp between magicians,’ Stephen  chuckles, ‘could be irresistible.’

‘Do you know a book writer who could work with us?’ he asks.  ‘Several come to mind,’ I respond. ‘Great,’ says Lansbury, handing me the phone. ‘Call them.’  Without hesitating, I dial Dan Greenberg’s number.  He doesn’t answer.  Too bad.  He’s clever, fast, and funny.

The second writer, Bob Randall picks up.  After describing where I am, who I’m with, and why I’m calling, Bob says, ‘How about me coming right over?‘   Smart guy.  ‘Okay, Bob.  See you in a couple of minutes.’

Before he arrives, I turn to Edgar with an important question.  ‘I’m a practical guy.  I don’t want to waste time exploring story ideas that a producer can’t afford to pay for.  Give me a realistic budget for today’s session with Bob Randall.’

‘For now,’ Edgar offers, ‘$50,000 is realistic.’  My mind explodes.  That’s the smallest production budget I’ve ever heard!  ‘That includes sets, costumes, and lighting?’ I ask.  ‘Correct,’ responds Edgar, ‘it’s probably not the number you were hoping to hear,’ he confides, ‘but if you want to get the project up fast, it’s the most realistic one to work with.’  ‘No problem, Mr. Lansbury,’ I add, ‘I’ll make it work.’ 

Two hours later, our development session with Bob Randall wraps up.   Standing at the door clutching a stack of notes, Bob assures Stephen, Edgar, and me he’s going to make magic happen.  ‘Give me two days,’ he suggests, ‘and I’ll deliver a draft that will knock your socks off.’   We shake hands on it.

Bob’s first draft is witty, charming, and stageable.  Schwartz matches it with a delicious set of songs.  He includes two songs for a character named ‘Charmin’… both clearly meant for Anita.  With designer David Chapman, a single-unit set is devised that delivers nine scenic phases.  Costumer Randy Barcelo delivers expandable wardrobe features.  David Byrd designs a killer poster.  Doug’s sweetness blossoms.  Audiences, cast members, creators, and investors are grinning ear-to-ear. 

On February 3, I’m guided through two theatres where the Henning project can be performed, the Ambassador and the Cort.  The Cort feels like Broadway.  It gets my vote.  Edgar Lansbury books a start date, May 1, 1974.   


Special Thanks to Grover Dale

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