The Magic Show with Doug Henning

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The late Doug Henning was a cheerful pop-culture icon of the 1970s. His chipmunk grin and dangling hair become as ubiquitous as the Farrah Fawcett bathing-suit poster. The Canadian magician's fame was sealed with The Magic Show, a Broadway musical that ran for more than four years. This 1981 filmed version of a live Toronto stage production is not exactly the original show. Some of Henning's magic routines were different, and songwriter Stephen Schwartz replaced a couple of songs with new numbers (which Schwartz has claimed he prefers to the originals, though die-hard fans of the original Broadway cast recording may demur). Schwartz, whose work has included excursions into both New and Old Testaments (Godspell and the animated film The Prince of Egypt, respectively), is in a bouncy Godspell mode here, with the clever songs boosting the tired dialogue. The show is essentially an old-fashioned, mild send-up comedy/melodrama serving as an excuse for Henning's magic acts. The supporting players handle most of the heavy lifting of song and dance, including red-headed vixen (and future star) Anita Morris, who gets sawed in half and turned into a lion. Henning lends his likable personality and saves his energy for the big-time tricks. As is almost always true of magic, the filmed version lacks the you-are-there charge of a live show, but at least this production captures Henning's style and spirit: his high-pitched "Whoo!" and hippy-dippy rainbow outfits are ingratiating in a smiley-face way. --Robert Horton


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