The Magic Show
"If I take a half an hour to try and grab a shower, I'm teleported through the blue by some magi who'll undress me and start shouting 'Open Ses'me'. It's a nightmare, being a dream come true."
- Book by Bob Randal
- Music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz
- Magic by Doug Henning
- Direction and dances by Grover Dale
- Original album produced by Phil Ramone and Stephen Schwartz
- Opened 5/28/74 at the Cort Theatre in New York. 1,920 performances.
David Ogden Stiers
As the booklet has no plot summary, I am forced to take what I can get from Broadway Musicals Show By Show: "Something about an ambitious young magician at a seedy Passaic, New Jersey, nightclub who triumphs over a jealous old-timer." In other words, this is a magic show with a wimpy plot and a handful of songs appended to it. There is also a wistful young woman (his assistant?) who appears to be in love with the Doug Henning character, and an annoyed and unwilling assistant (Charmin) that he conjures up after he has an argument with his original one. (When he makes up with his first assistant he turns Charmin into a tiger to get rid of her.)
- Up to His Old Tricks
- Solid Silver Platform Shoes
- Lion Tamer
- Two's Company
- Charmin's Lament
- The Goldfarb Variations
- West End Avenue
- Sweet, Sweet, Sweet
- Before Your Very Eyes
This show won no Tonys.
- Best Actor, Supporting or Featured (Doug Henning) (!!!)
- Best Director
I have to admit, I approached this CD with trepidation. Stephen Schwartz is not my favorite composer, and I'm not fond of pop/rock scores. With only eleven songs, the score is about as minimal as it gets. By all accounts, this was a mediocre, amateurish show despite its popularity. And the leading man can neither act nor sing, and his star turns (so to speak) aren't apparent on the CD. So, what a pleasant surprise to discover a thoroughly enjoyable set of songs! Some of them have a dated 70's sound--there are echoes of funk and proto-disco--and there's one country-style complaint song ("Charmin's Lament"), but they're rescued by a sharp sense of humor in both lyric and music. (Schwartz isn't the world's greatest lyricist, but here he's quite amusing.) There are also a handful of extremely nice Broadway-style songs, especially "Lion Tamer," "West End Avenue" (which probably could've been a hit if it had appeared in a musical before rock took over the airwaves), and the adventurous, Sondheimesque "Goldfarb Variations." Having heard this disc now, I've decided that Schwartz is one of the few pop-style composers who actually understands musicals, though I still prefer his more traditional musical theatre compositions, and I doubt I'll ever be able to bring myself to enjoy Godspell.
This must be the only recording extant where the star is almost entirely absent. And you can hear why when Henning gets to speak one line during "Charmin's Lament." He's so awful on that line that I cringe to think what he was like during the whole show--he sounds like he's cold reading from a script. It's hard to believe that he was Tony-nominated in 1975, even given the relatively weak field of featured actors that year. (If he'd been the leading man, he wouldn't have had a prayer of a nomination--not with the likes of John Cullum, Robert Preston, Raul Julia, and Joel Grey ahead of him.) Hopefully they kept his mouth shut and had everyone talk around him.
They certainly sang around him. All of the singers are quite competent, but the women are better than the men (and they get nearly all the songs, too), and Soules just blew me away. I love her wistful-naive voice--kind of like Jill O'Hara in Promises, Promises--and she also gets two of the best songs ("Lion Tamer" and "West End Avenue"), which she performs magnificently. I wish I could find her in another role! Morris also strikes the right indignant note in her solo "Charmin's Lament" and is generally hilarious. A few years later she would be equally engaging in the impressive Nine.
On the other hand, while Stiers has the right persona for his smarmy, egotistical solo "Style," the song is nothing special, and Stiers just isn't forceful enough to make the song and character memorable. I could see Cullum in that role, or Jack Cassidy, or Howard McGillin, but I've always felt that Stiers doesn't project enough personality to make a good musical presence. (He comes off as even wimpier in the Encores! Tenderloin.) As for the others, it's hard to figure out their contributions, as none of them had any solos, though they have a number of duets. They sound good, though.
The booklet is of a quality generally referred to as "sucky." It consists of the lyrics, two small color pictures, a short essay about the show by Stephen Schwartz, a song list with singers, and some technical information. There's neither a plot summary nor a list of characters, which is why I have so many question marks in the players/characters list above. Considering that this show was the fifth-longest-running musical of the 1970s, this booklet is a disgrace.
An underrated and unexpectedly enjoyable disc, with several outstanding songs, a lot of humor, and a couple of really good performances. A necessity for Schwartz fans, and recommended for everyone else. If you're a Doug Henning fan but not a musical fan, don't bother; he's not here. There is a video/DVD of this show extant, but according to disappointed buyers on Amazon, the show replaced most of the best songs ("Goldfarb" and "West End") with weaker tunes, so it's probably best for people wanting the magic, not the music.
All non-lyric material copyright 2002, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved
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