Merlin is a musical based on a concept by popular illusionist Doug Henning and Barbara De Angelis, written by Richard Levinson and William Link, with music (and incidental music) written by Elmer Bernstein and lyrics by Don Black.
Broadway Playbill cover
Merlin opened on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre on February 13, 1983 and closed on August 7, 1983 after 199 performances and 69 previews. It was directed by Ivan Reitman and choreographed by Christopher Chadman and Billy Wilson. The cast included Henning as Merlin, Chita Rivera as an evil sorceress and, in supporting roles, newcomer Nathan Lane and a young Christian Slater.
The show was not a critical or financial success, failing to recoup its estimated production budget of $4–6 million. It is remembered today chiefly because of the number of "preview" performances it played: while most shows play a month or so prior to inviting critics and having an official opening, Merlin had 69, never inviting the critics and postponing the opening three times, despite charging full ticket prices. During the musical's troubled previews, the original director (Frank Dunlop) was replaced by co-producer Reitman, while choreographer Billy Wilson was added to augment Chadman's work. At least four songs were cut during previews, including "These Are Not the Merriest of Days" which was replaced by "Put a Little Magic in Your Life".
The story focuses on the legendary wizard Merlin, not as an elderly man as he is usually depicted, but as a young apprentice still learning the rules of magic. Merlin must overcome the evil Queen and her attempts to install her son Fergus as the King of England over the rightful future King Arthur.
During the production number "Put a Little Magic in Your Life", Henning mounted a white horse and rode it into a gigantic box, which was then closed and hoisted into the air above the stage. In midair, the box suddenly broke open, turning out to be empty. A moment later, Henning appeared at the opposite edge of the stage, still mounted on a horse. In another scene, Henning levitated and flew above the stage with no visible support. Anticipating the audience's suspicion that Henning was hanging on invisible wires, the set design for this scene included several large Stonehenge-like trilithons: Henning levitated beneath the lintels of these structures, which would have caught any wires hanging above him. In a battle sequence, Rivera's villainess character and her minions, in full view of the audience, assembled several large pieces of armor into a giant warrior, which immediately began walking and wielding a sword even though the armor had no discernible human occupant.
Cast and charactersEdit
The original Broadway cast and their respective roles:
Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote that the main draw of Merlin was Henning's "spectacular" illusions. Rich also found Theoni V. Aldredge's costumes to be "imaginative," albeit trying too hard to be like those in Cats and Star Wars at times. He panned the other aspects of the musical, particularly Henning's acting, singing and dancing. Overall, he felt that Merlin would have worked better as a magic show than as a musical.
Awards and nominationsEdit
Original Broadway productionEdit
|1983||Tony Award||Best Musical||Nominated|
|Best Book of a Musical||Richard Levinson and William Link||Nominated|
|Best Original Score||Elmer Bernstein and Don Black||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical||Chita Rivera||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Ivan Reitman||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical||Rebecca Wright||Nominated|
|Outstanding Special Effects||Doug Henning||Nominated|
- " Merlin on Broadway" playbillvault.com, accessed March 20, 2015
- Dietz, Dan (2016). The Complete Book of 1980s Broadway Musicals. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 162–163. ISBN 978-1442260917.
- Rich, Frank (January 31, 1983). "Stage: Magic Of 'Merlin' Is In Henning's Illusions". The New York Times.
- Mandelbaum, Ken (1992). Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops. Macmillan. p. 46. ISBN 1466843276.