Merlin was 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.
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 and 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 tryouts, the original director (Frank Dunlop) was replaced by Co-Producer Reitman and choreographer Billy Wilson was added. The tune for the song "Put a Little Magic in Your Life" had previously supported a different lyric: "These Are Not the Merriest of Days".
The story focuses on the legendary wizard Merlin, not as an elderly man as he is usually depicted, but as a young man, still an apprentice learning the rules of magic. The storyline was barely more than a framework for the presentation of as many magic tricks as possible, some of them quite spectacular. 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.
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
|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|
- New York Times, Frank Rich, January 31, 1983