Since the heyday of the late Doug Henning and his The Magic Show and Merlin, Broadway stage illusions have essentially submerged into whatever big-budget musical required dazzling special effects. But now, producers are readying a new musical that will again put magic front and center.
As previously reported, a musical inspired by, but not exactly based on, the life of magician Harry Blackstone Sr., is in the development stage, with Teri Mitze producing. The musical will feature a book by Ivan Menchell, author of the Broadway comedy The Cemetery Club, and music by Grant Sturiale, who penned the tunes (with lyricist Barry Harman) for Olympus On My Mind. Formerly titled “Blackstone,” the show has now officially changed its working title to The Magician, according to a Boneau/Bryan-Brown spokesperson (reached April 26).
The piece isn't about Harry Blackstone Sr. per se; it's a fictional tale of an old man who finds he's been given Blackstone's magical powers for a day. "It's not biographical," Sturiale told Playbill On-Line (Feb. 16), "but inspired by the magic he did and what he meant to people. It'll hopefully be a charming evening -- with real elephants and tigers in it."
Bill Russell, who penned the book and lyrics for Side Show, was initially attached to the project; then he left and Marc Elliot and Judd Woldin were signed on as lyricists. But Sturiale said (Feb. 16) the piece no longer has lyrics and doesn't follow the song by-song format of typical Broadway musicals. "It now uses music much the way a movie is scored. We tried writing songs, but it just didn't work; the piece didn't warrant it. Now it'll be more like a musical play."
Patricia Birch, who choreographed Parade and choreographed and co-directed Band in Berlin, will choreograph The Magician, to be directed by Leslie Reidell. According to the Boneau/Bryan-Brown press office, designing the show are Allen Jones (set), Gayle Susan Baizer (costumes) and Ken Billington (lighting), and Charles Reynolds (magic consultant). The widow of son Harry Blackstone Jr. is also a consultant on the project. *
In his February comments, Sturiale anticipated spring and summer readings of the project, followed by an out-of-town staging in the fall. Elaborating on the music, Sturiale noted that the show has "an Arabian sequence with an exotic quality, plus set pieces including a silent-movie part."
Like so many shows, the time frame for The Magician's appearance has been delayed a number of times, but Sturiale hasn't been idle in the interim. He has conducted the Radio City Christmas Show and the national tour of Blood Brothers. He's also penned the song, "Here We Are," with Olympus partner Harman, that's on Petula Clark's latest album, "Here For You." He's also working with Harman on a musical version of the Gene Hackman & Nick Nolte film, "Under Fire," about journalists covering the Sandinista revolt in Nicaragua. "That one's not at the reading stage yet," Sturiale told Playbill On-Line, "but I've been recording demos for the Latin-influenced score. It's a really cool project and we should have it finished this year." Songs are likely to include "I Take Pictures," "Rafael" and "Once You Feel the Fire."
Also, Sturiale is collaborating with Alan Fitzhugh (Grind) and Lonny Price on a piece called Entourage, based on "Sing Brat Sing," an obscure Viennese novella by Rene Fulop Muller. Written between the wars, the darkly comic story tells of a little girl with a remarkable singing voice. She's able to imitate an opera soprano who also lives in her tenement building. An entrepreneur tries to make the girl a star, but she loses her gift at the end. "It's about the repercussions of the family, plus about the price paid for decisions you make," said Sturiale. Songs for the show, which is being developed at Musical Theater Works (where Price is artistic director), include the title number and "If We Choose."
Entourage has had two readings and, after more rewrites, is eyeing another reading this summer.
-- By David Lefkowitz