Doug Henning only seems to dema terialize – and re-materialize – and levitation is a mechanical rather than a natural wonder. But it is beyond the ken of nonmagicians to understand how he performs his illusionary feats. As we know from his first two Broadway shows and his frequent television appearances, he is a genial grand master of a magician.
”The Magic Show” and ”Merlin” were both book musicals, and one kept waiting for Mr. Henning to make the shows vanish and to return to what he does best. Now he has arrived at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in an unpretentious entertainment entitled ”Doug Henning and His World of Magic,” and it is almost all magic. With one sweep of his wand, he has banished Broadway musical accouterments, except for an orchestra led by Peter Matz and a few dances, which are to choreography what a 40-watt bulb is to a laser.
It is good to see Henning plain. His ”World of Magic” must be considered a holiday treat for children, whom he welcomes into his act as volunteers. One child gets to lift off in a kiddycar. He dares his audience to solve his legerdemain, as he and his accomplices, who include his wife, Debby, mysteriously trade places with each other in locked trunks and boxes. Presto, he’s in, she’s out. Houdini had nothing on Henning.
At the same time, it is clear from the two hours of magic (including an excessively long intermission) that we are watching a touring show, and a small one at that, one that is not quite comfortable on a big Broadway stage. As conceived and directed by Mr. Henning, the show is designed to emphasize highlights from his past. But for all one hears about the star’s think tank of magic-makers, ”World of Magic” seems short on fresh invention.
Mr. Henning saws two women in half and then shifts tops and bottoms, as he did in ”The Magic Show.” There are several variations on the Houdini trunk theme and there is only one attempt at a novelty. A Rube Goldberg contraption amusingly transports Mr. Henning from inside a sack to the interior of a large stuffed toy animal.
A few moments of spontaneity are contributed by animals. At Wednesday’s matinee, a dove relieved itself on the star’s arm, and in a climactic trick a tiger, replacing Mr. Henning in a box, was momentarily seen licking his chops. With such a tame tabby and such an artful conjurer, there was no need to worry about the fate of the magician.
In a new addition to his Broadway repertory, he performs small-scale sleight of hand, as seen in close-up on large television screens. He shuffles oversized playing cards, changing the faces with a dexterity that would dazzle a street-corner shell-game artist. He can make a silver ball float in space and a handkerchief fly like a fugitive ghost from an animated cartoon.
To the amazement of his eager volunteers, he plucks silver dollars out of the air and other unlikely places and turns a $1 bill into a $100 bill. If only he could do the ultimate Broadway magic trick and cut ticket prices for his three-week engagement so that the youngest theatergoers could readily watch him circumnavigate his ”World of Magic.”
The Cast DOUG HENNING AND HIS WORLD OF MAGIC, production conceived and directed by Doug Henning; staged and choregraphed by Charlene Painter; music composed and directed by Peter Matz; costume designer, Jef Bellings; set designer, Bill Bohnert; lighting designer and stage manager, Michael McGiveney; music designer and coordinator, Jim Steinmeyer; head illusion engineer and additiional illusion constructed by William Kennedy; illusions designed and constructed by John Gaughan; magical consultant, Charles Reynolds; animals trained and managed by Rick Glassey; illusion engineers, Jon Sipos, Wayne Saks and Frank Carra; sound engineer, Bud Beauchamp; wardrobe mistress, Nancy Nedell; assistant choregorapher, Victor Heineman; additional costumes by Bill Hargate. Presented by James M. Nederlander and Arthur Rubin. At the Lunt- Fontanne Theater, 205 West 46th Street. WITH: Doug Henning, Debby Henning, Victor Heineman, D. J. Mergenthaler, Gina Rose and Kathleen White.
Original Publication Date: December 15, 1984