Craig Zadan, the producer who resuscitated the live television musical beginning with 2013's The Sound of Music Live! on NBC, has died at age 69 following complications from shoulder surgery.
The prolific producer—whose live production of Jesus Christ Superstar earned 13 Emmy nominations this year—was, with his longtime producing partner Neil Meron, responsible for a musical renaissance, first with the Academy Award-winning film adaptation of Chicago and then with an annual offering of live TV musicals that hearkened back to the Golden Age of the Broadway musical.
In addition to the yearly live musicals, Zadan and Meron were also responsible for Gypsy starring Bette Midler for CBS, NBC's cult favorite Smash, and Judy Davis as Judy Garland in the miniseries Life With Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows.
"On behalf of his life partner, Elwood Hopkins, and his producing partner, Neil Meron, we are stunned that the man behind so many incredible film, theatre, and television productions — several of them joyous musicals — was taken away so suddenly," said NBC Chairman Robert Greenblatt in a statement. "Craig’s distinguished career as a passionate and consummate producer is eclipsed only by his genuine love for the thousands of actors, directors, writers, musicians, designers, and technicians he worked with over the years. His absence will be felt in our hearts and throughout our business.”
In an era when musicals were considered passé in Hollywood, and characters whose emotional depths compelled them beyond dialogue to express themselves through dance, rhyme, and rhythm were deemed “too big” for the camera, Zadan believed.
His skill as a classic showbiz producer and precise balance of showmanship and business acumen gained him the trust of major network and studio executives, who were willing to put millions behind his projects. Meanwhile, his respect and admiration for talent emboldened such artists as Midler, who took on Rose in the made-for-television adaptation of the 1959 Broadway Golden Age musical Gypsy, and Whitney Houston, who joined him and Meron on Disney’s 1997 television remake of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
He remained determined and optimistic in a frequently cynical industry, always believing in the ability of musical theatre to reach new audiences and expand to new media. When Broadway veterans bristled at new media's perceived encroachment on the fragile economy of live theatre, Zadan and Meron embraced it as an opportunity not just to introduce more people to the art form, but to use it as a bridge to connect them to a community of artists who had dedicated their lives to the theatre.
With Meron, Zadan’s various productions earned six Academy Awards, five Golden Globes, 17 Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, a Grammy Award, six GLAAD Awards, four NAACP Image Awards and two Tony Awards.
Zadan is survived by his partner, Elwood Hopkins.