History-making producer Craig Zadan passed away suddenly August 20, 2018, a blow felt in all sectors of the entertainment industry. Half of the legendary partnership with producer Neil Meron, Zadan helped usher in a “Platinum Age” of musical theatre. From the resurgence of televised movie musicals like Gypsy starring Bette Midler and Cinderella starring Whitney Houston to the revival of the live television musical event, Zadan and Meron productions bridged stage and screen in a way few others have. Zadan and Meron’s productions have earned six Oscars, 17 Emmy Awards, two Tonys, two Peabody honors, and a Grammy. In addition to their award-winning productions, series, and movies, the duo was personally honored in 2008 with the Career Achievement Award from the Casting Society of America.
Here are five things you may not have known about the revolutionary Crag Zadan:
1. Zadan started out as a writer.
Zadan began his career as a writer for New York magazine, which is how he came to write the book Sondheim & Co published originally in 1974. (An updated version was published in 1990.) At the time, the public knew Sondheim as the lyricist to West Side Story and not much more. “I figured out Steve Sondheim was going to be who Steve Sondheim was going to be,” Zadan told reporter Michael Reidel on a 2012 episode of Theater Talk. “Being at the right place at the right time, I got to speak to Ethel Merman, Zero Mostel, Burt Shevalove, Jerry Robbins. I got to spend a week with Leonard Bernstein. As a result, I had the benefit of having all their input and their information in this book.” Based on that book, Zadan was asked to write and direct and produce cabaret shows with a man named Neil Meron.
2. Zadan and Meron got their first theatrical break from Joe Papp.
Over three decades ago, Zadan and Meron wrote a series of cabarets called Broadway at the Ballroom staged at The Ballroom in SoHo. Zadan describes these as “songbook” revues, where composers and lyricists showcased their own work—and debuted new songs. Charles Strouse debuted “Tomorrow” while working on Annie. Andrew Lloyd Webber debuted “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” while working on Evita.
Joe Papp of The Public Theater saw Broadway at the Ballroom and asked Zadan and Meron to develop shows at The Public. The pair developed musicals like I’m Getting My Act Together and Taking It On The Road and Runaways, as well as plays like David Mamet’s The Water Engine and John Guare’s The Landscape of the Body. Papp’s Public was Zadan’s true introduction to working in the theatre.
3. He produced more than musicals for film and television.
Zadan and Meron struggled to make a living in the theatre and soon transitioned to television and film. They wanted to bring musicals to the silver screen—and eventually did with the Oscar-winning Chicago and more. But in addition to 1984’s Footloose and 1993’s Bette Midler Gypsy, Zadan was a producer of non-musical work like 1997’s Twists of Terror, 2007’s The Bucket List, and 2008’s Family Man. He was also an executive producer on Flint starring Queen Latifah, which is currently nominated for a 2018 Emmy for Made for Television Movie. Of course, he also produced Smash for NBC. He also produced series like Drop Dead Diva and Wedding Wars.
4. Zadan convinced Rob Marshall to direct.
Along with Meron, Zadan spotted the director lurking inside choreographer Rob Marshall. Marshall had choreographed their made-for-TV musical Cinderella. They asked him to direct and choreograph 1999’s Annie remake for television. Annie is the project that then convinced Miramax to consider Marshall for the director’s chair on Oscar-winning Chicago.
5. Zadan, alongside Meron, reinvigorated the Oscars broadcast.
The pair produced the Academy Awards broadcasts from 2013–2015. They were the first executive producers in 16 years to produce three consecutive Oscar broadcasts. The 2014 Oscars (the 86th annual) was the most-viewed since 2000, with an audience of 45.4 million.