The Magic Show, the Movie

An archive of important topics previously discussed.
Eric DeCamps
Posts: 316
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Forest Hills, NY

The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Eric DeCamps » July 26th, 2001, 2:48 pm

I confess that I was a big Doug Henning fan and felt a great loss when I read of his passing last year. He was the major influence for me becoming interested in magic when I was in high school and I went to see The Magic Show at least eight times over the course of it's run. I loved that show. OK I'll come clean I was a HH (HenningHead)!

Well the "movie" version of what many consider to be the beginning of performance magic's new renaissance was released this past Tuesday on DVD. I picked up a copy and sat down to view it as soon as I got home.

I had already seen a bootleg copy of this "movie" back in the mid eighties. Quite honestly, I was not that much impressed with what I could saw then and the much clearer DVD release did not change my mind.

The "movie" just never captures the same sense of intimacy and wonder one felt viewing the show at the Cort Theater. To counter this, I guess the "movie" producer's opted to have Doug perform some of his more grandiose illusions. While the illusions are ones that Doug performed on many of his magic TV specials and I enjoyed them there, I do not necessarily think that worked for the "movie".

At the risk of being ridiculed for this, I liked Steven Schwartz' songs and two of my favorite ones were cut from the "movie" version.

This post may sound like I do not recommend the DVD; nothing could be further from the truth. I think all magicians should go out and buy a copy immediately for posterity reasons alone.

What do you think?

User avatar
Richard Kaufman
Posts: 23772
Joined: July 18th, 2001, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Theodore DeLand
Location: Washington DC
Contact:

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Richard Kaufman » July 26th, 2001, 5:13 pm

Eric, I need a story about this DVD for the October Genii. About 1500 words. Could you expand on what you wrote in your post for an article?
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine

User avatar
Steve Bryant
Posts: 1818
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Ballantine
Location: Bloomington IN
Contact:

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Steve Bryant » July 26th, 2001, 11:35 pm

Eric,
Sorry to hear that changes were made for the movie, which often happens, BUT, for those of us who never saw the original, the movie is terrific. I just watched it and am thrilled. Didi Conn was sexy and perky, the songs were great, the curtain going up took my breath away (was _that_ in the Cort show?), and then you have Doug doing all his signature illusions. I haven't heard his One, Two, Three, It's Me in a long time, and it was nice to hear again. This video captures what started modern magic. Just wonderful and, as you say, everyone should get this. A fistful of stars ...

Michael Edwards
Posts: 516
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Washington, DC

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Michael Edwards » July 27th, 2001, 6:27 am

While the DVD differs markedly from the original Broadway performance, it does help us hold on to an important event in the history of magic. This little musical did much more than make Doug Henning a star...it reinvigorated magic, inspired a new generation of magicians, and gave magic a new look and a new respectability. In so doing, it reestablished magic's place in American entertainment. For that alone, this DVD ought to be in your collection. (By the way, if you're interested in the story begind The Magic Show, you might want to check out the article in the August 1997 Genii (Volume 60, Number 10) titled, of course, "The Magic Show."

Michael Edwards
Posts: 516
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Washington, DC

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Michael Edwards » July 27th, 2001, 7:42 am

But Eric is quite right. The DVD really doesn't come close to catching the sense of wonder one felt sitting in that little Cort Theater back in 1974. There was something very special about the connection between Doug, his magic and the audience. The changes in the DVD version are significant -- they include the cast, music, and even the illusions -- but that's not why the DVD is really different than the stage musical. It's different because it can't capture the real magic that made The Magic Show a success.

For those who never had a chance to see the musical during its 1,920 performances on Broadway or while it was on tour with Doug, Peter dePaula, or Larry Anderson, don't set your expectations too high about the story itself. The book is a bit quirky.... "a saccharin little musical story" was the way Time Magazine tagged it...and despite Eric's liking the score, the music wasn't much better. Stephen Schwartz's songs, it was said, "seem to have been composed underwater and piped directly from the ocean floor in all their gurgly indecipherability." (BTW, the original Broadway cast recording is available on CD.) What was remarkable was Doug Henning and the magic he made happen in that theater. Clive Barnes summed it up this way: "He is the greatest illusionist I have ever seen and...I have seen plenty. He is amazing. On the other hand, the show is awful. This is a magic show where they should keep the magic and abandon the show."

User avatar
Steve Bryant
Posts: 1818
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Ballantine
Location: Bloomington IN
Contact:

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Steve Bryant » July 27th, 2001, 11:10 am

It was a nice surprise to me that I LIKED the songs in this DVD (and now look forward to hearing the Broadway CD). The songs are fun with some clever rhyming, a la the songs in Little Shop of Horrors. Last year I took in Jekyll and Hyde and Les Mis, and I prefer the songs in The Magic Show. But then, my taste in music centers on pre-Beatles rock and roll, and I just bought a Sue Thompson CD this week.

Eric DeCamps
Posts: 316
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Forest Hills, NY

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Eric DeCamps » July 27th, 2001, 1:54 pm

Steve,

I am very happy to hear that you enjoyed the filmed version of The Magic Show ("filmed version" seems to be a better connotation than "movie").

It's funny that you liked Didi Conn in the role of Cal. Dale Soules (sp) originated the role and it's hard to see someone else portraying that role. Ms. Conn was very good but no Dale Soules.

I wish you could have seen the original Broadway production's opening magic sequence when Doug performed his presentation of Ralph Adams' dancing handkerchiefs. At the time I was a layperson (a VERY YOUNG layperson at that) and it was such a beautiful thing to witness. It's a shame that the filmed version the routine loses it's magic.

I agree with you wholeheartedly that hearing Doug's One, Two, Three it's Me was very nostalgic and great to hear again.

It's kind of strange but in a way with Doug's passing, it seems magic has its innocence. I just hope it's not lost forever.

Eric DeCamps
Posts: 316
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Forest Hills, NY

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Eric DeCamps » July 27th, 2001, 1:55 pm

Michael,

You are correct the filmed version just cannot capture the essence of the live show. Putting a camera in front of a stage and just filming the actions on stage just did not do it.

I would love to reread the article you wrote. Unfortunately, I no longer have my back issues of Genii magazine. If Senor Kaufman still has a copy I'll try to purchase one from him.

User avatar
Steve Bryant
Posts: 1818
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Ballantine
Location: Bloomington IN
Contact:

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Steve Bryant » July 27th, 2001, 3:54 pm

I've never understood why all the big Broadway shows are not filmed "as is" for posterity. To be able to see the original My Fair Lady, West Side Story, etc. Ditto magic shows. Siegfried and Roy should get their show on film in entirety; that show will never be duplicated. Yes, it's a big loss to me that I missed The Magic Show live. I did see Doug in Merlin, but that was a more confusing show. I like The Magic Show better, even this filmed version.

Michael Edwards
Posts: 516
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Washington, DC

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Michael Edwards » July 28th, 2001, 8:34 am

Eric: You are quite right in terming this a "filmed version" of the musical rather than a true "movie." It's just too bad that the camera never captured the original Broadway show. Dale Soules was, as you suggest, terrific as Cal. In fact, the entire ensemble -- Henning, Soules, David Ogden Stiers, Annie McGreevey, Cheryl Barnes, Ronald Stafford, Loyd Sannes, Sam Schacht, and Anita Morris -- brought a special chemistry to the production. And it was really "chemistry" that made this show such a hit. As has been mentioned, the story was pedestrian; the score imitive at best; the nonmagical staging rather uninspired. It had a star who -- by his own admission -- couldn't sing, couldn't dance, and couldn't act (see "A Conversation with Doug Henning," Genii, September 15, 1999). Yet "The Magic Show" was truly "magical"...the result of this wonderful chemistry, some remarkable magic, and the unique relationship Doug Henning had with his audience.

I'm not sure it's ever possible to capture the feel and impact of live theater on film...but it would have been nice to have an archival record of the original -- if only for history's sake.

Don Spurrier
Posts: 44
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Huntsville, AL

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Don Spurrier » July 28th, 2001, 7:07 pm

I was fortunate to see Henning's Merlin production in 1983. While the magic was more cutting edge, it was too large and overwhelming such that the show never captured the intimacy of The Magic Show. Even Chita Rivera was upstaged by the magic. I do recall, with favor, Henning's appearance in a chair which, earlier, I had thought was only a Tom Palmer daydream. It is interesting to note that the cast had Nathan Lane, just then starting his Broadway climb, and a young boy, Christian Slater, who later, also, became a movie draw. Does anyone know if Merlin was ever preserved on film?

User avatar
Richard Kaufman
Posts: 23772
Joined: July 18th, 2001, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Theodore DeLand
Location: Washington DC
Contact:

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Richard Kaufman » July 28th, 2001, 9:35 pm

Jim Steinmeyer or Charles Reynolds would be the people to know if Merlin was ever taped for posterity. I would think that it was not likely because the show seemed to be in a constant state of flux, with the text being rewritten on a weekly basis and new illusions moving in and out the show all the time. I don't think they ever felt it was really finished.
Subscribe today to Genii Magazine

Jeff Haas
Posts: 934
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: San Mateo, CA

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Jeff Haas » July 29th, 2001, 4:19 am

I remember that a short segment of Merlin was done for the Tony Awards that year. So there's a bit of it that could be uncovered.

Michael Edwards
Posts: 516
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Washington, DC

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Michael Edwards » July 29th, 2001, 8:28 am

Steve: I'm not surprised that you liked Didi Conn. She brings great -- and needed --energy to the film. (You may remember her as Frenchy in "Grease" and Grease 2" as well as the Station Master Stacey Jones in the children's television series "Shining Times Station). When The Magic Show opened on Broadway, it was clearly Doug Henning's charisma and the remarkable and then seldom if ever performed illusions that captivated audiences. One interesting aspect to the show's evolution is how with different companies -- or when Doug was spelled by other performers such as Joe Abbaldo on Broadway -- the musical became more a vehicle for the other characters in the story.

These characters are somewhat different in the filmed version...not just the actors, but the roles they play. Feldman and Goldfarb, for instance, are rechristened Van Zyskind and Shumway respectively. But the alterations are more than just in nomenclature. Reference has already been made to the elimination of some of the original score (Sterling Silver Platform Shoes, The Goldfarb Variations, West End Avenue, and Sweet, Sweet, Sweet) while others (Charmin's Lament) were rewritten. Not only were these some of Stephen Schwartz's cleverest and most engaging songs, they gave depth and texture to both the plot and characters. Unfortunately, the filmed version's new numbers really don't make up for this. What you get is a cute -- and perhaps engaging -- vehicle for some of Doug Henning's magic.

Michael Edwards
Posts: 516
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Washington, DC

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Michael Edwards » July 29th, 2001, 8:44 am

And the Henning magic you see is quite a bit different than that seen in the Broadway production. The version that was filmed inserts some of Doug's favorite illusions from his touring show, including an elephant vanish, his motorcycle vanish and reproduction, and The Rabbit's Revenge. While it's wonderful to see these illusions once again, they seem a bit out of context -- and disproportionately out of size -- in the seedy confines of Chez Manny. What set Doug Henning and The Magic Show apart from the ordinary, stereotyped, top-hatted, cloacked magician of the past, one observer noted, "was a rock score, young, hip people, and a hip rabbit named Edna. A sort of easy charm pervades the whole show; one never gets the feeling he's in the audience of the Ed Sullivan Sow." But that's just how one feels when seeing some of these illusions in the filmed version.

Even so, it's great fun seeing Doug and this wonderful magic once again. While we can't go back to 1974 again, it's nice to be able to hold on to a little bit of it.

User avatar
Matthew Field
Posts: 2731
Joined: January 18th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Favorite Magician: Slydini
Location: Hastings, England, UK

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Matthew Field » July 29th, 2001, 11:37 am

My recollection, perhaps hazy, is that when I saw "Merlin" on Broadway almost all of the book of the show had been cut, and it was basically Doug doing illusions and sleight of hand. Does anyone else remember this?

Matt Field

Eric DeCamps
Posts: 316
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Forest Hills, NY

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Eric DeCamps » July 29th, 2001, 1:46 pm

Matthew:

Granted that the book for "Merlin - The Musical" was not Pulitzer Prize winning material. However, I do not think they cut out the story line almost completely in its many revisions during its run.

Since the subject Of Doug's other Broadway show has been brought up here, what was your favorite illusion in that production? Mine was the opening floating and growing sphere. The first time I saw it, it just blew me away.

I know many of the readers never had the opportunity to see the show during its limited run so let me explain. Here's what happens from the audience's perspective:

The stage curtains are raised and the stage is black. Suddenly a small white ball appears to be floating in mid air at the back of the stage. The size of the ball is about the size of a zombie ball or Okito floating ball. It begins to fly forward to the front of the stage. At the same time it's advancing it begins to grow and grow in mid air until it reaches the front of the stage and now measures over six feet in diameter! The giant orb slowly descends just enough so that the bottom of it touches the stage floor and then very gradually rises back up again. As the giant sphere rises a full-grown man (Merlin in costume) literally is deposited actually he appears to be, ever so slowly, "sucked" out of the giant bubble. This is without about the single most amazing production of a person I have ever seen.

For those of you who were fans of the old Patrick McGoohan British television series, The Prisoner, will know exactly what this thing looked like. Except that the globe in this instance visually grew 20 times its size and that this version was done live on stage!

Eric DeCamps

Michael Edwards
Posts: 516
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Washington, DC

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Michael Edwards » July 29th, 2001, 3:15 pm

An intriquing question, Eric. It is hard for me to think of the illusions in Merlin without pausing to reflect on the remarkable thinking, artistry and method behind The Mascot Moth. I'm not sure it was my favorite, but it remains the most impressive.

Eric DeCamps
Posts: 316
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Forest Hills, NY

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Eric DeCamps » July 29th, 2001, 8:15 pm

Michael:

The Mascot Moth was wonderful in the show.

Mr. Steinmeyer's written account of the laborious task of making that illusion possible is a great read. If you have not read it you should. The only thing is I seem have to forgotten where the story was documented.

Old age is setting in fast!

Eric DeCamps

Don Spurrier
Posts: 44
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Huntsville, AL

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Don Spurrier » July 29th, 2001, 8:20 pm

I have to agree with Michael Edwards about Merlin. I recall having passed the initial analytical phase of a show and adopting the stance of a spectator (that's magical in and of itself), when , suddenly, a girl, in a robe, is at upstage right. She vanishes! She simply vanished! My God!, I thought. Is that...was that...what I thought I saw? I had only read about it. I think it was. It had to be. It was...it was the Mascot Moth! It fit the description...it had to be. My heart raced. I had just seen magical history. The first time to see an illusion one had only read about was inspiring. I wish it could happen more often.

Michael Edwards
Posts: 516
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Washington, DC

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Michael Edwards » July 29th, 2001, 8:44 pm

Eric: Jim Steinmeyer's essay on The Mascot Moth ("The Moth in the Spotlight") can be found in his book Art and Artifice[Hahne, 1998. He also recounts the challenges of putting together the presentation of The Mascot Moth that was part of the Sixth Los Angeles Conference on Magic History in the January 2000 issue of Magic (Vol. 9, Number 5, "Devant's Trickiest Trick". Both are wonderful -- and instructive -- reads.

And, Don, I had the same reaction. She's there. Then she's gone. Just like that! It's so startling it takes a minute for the fact that she has vanished to even sink in. Which is a lot longer than it takes her to disappear; the Moth vanishes in 6/10th of a second!

Eric DeCamps
Posts: 316
Joined: January 17th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Forest Hills, NY

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Eric DeCamps » July 29th, 2001, 8:50 pm

Michael:

Thanks for the memory jog.

Eric

Rene Clement
Posts: 109
Joined: January 28th, 2008, 12:00 pm
Location: Queens NY
Contact:

Re: The Magic Show, the Movie

Postby Rene Clement » July 29th, 2001, 11:42 pm

About "Merlin" being taped, I spoke with Charlie Reynolds about this last year. He, like the rest of us, only has the segment from the Tony Awards show in his collection and he did not think the entire show was ever filmed.
--Rene Clement


Return to “The Archives”