Esteemed Author/Illusion Designer Jim Steinmeyer graciously agreed to share his thoughts on working on “Merlin” with Ivan Reitman and Doug in today’s post.
“Merlin” turned out to be the last collaboration between Doug and Ivan. While the production’s troubles are well known, Jim reminds us of how Reitman brought joy to the rehearsal process, and hints of a “ghostly” project he was working on that would change film comedy forever!
Doug’s second Broadway show was “Merlin,” at the Mark Hellenger Theater, and again he had the chance to work with his college friend Ivan Reitman, who served as the show’s producer. Ivan was, by that time, a successful Hollywood producer, and he made some inspired casting choices, like Nathan Lane in his first Broadway musical. Of course, “Merlin” quickly became one of Broadway’s problem shows, and it was soon over schedule and over budget. The choreographers left; the director was fired. Ivan enthusiastically stepped in as director, making changes in the script and incorporating more of Doug’s magic in the show as we pushed towards an opening date. When new lines were incorporated in the show, we could always hear Ivan, stranding in the back of the theater, laughing loudly. He was the most enthusiastic member of the audience.
I remember one evening, after all the rehearsals and all the meetings, when Ivan sat at a chair in the stage manager’s office and began telling us about the new movie he was just starting to work on. “It’s about a group of guys in New York who go into buildings and remove the ghosts, using high-tech equipment.” The more he explained it, the more convinced we became that it would be a flop. I don’t remember him actually calling it “Ghostbusters,” but of course, that was the movie he was describing, and it was a roaring hit.
“Merlin” wasn’t a hit for him. It ran about 8 months after it opened, but the magic was so successful that Doug was brought back, the following year, with his own show—just magic this time—for the following holiday season. That became Doug’s third Broadway show, “Doug Henning, An Evening of Magic and Wonder,” running at the Lunt Fontaine Theater. And Ivan, of course, continued with a long string of successful Hollywood movies. I know that Doug was grateful to him for his trust, and for his ability to put Doug’s magic in front of audiences. I was grateful for the chance to work with him.