Broadway’s ‘Houdini’ derailed by multi-tasking creators, star’s schedule

Image of actor Hugh Jackman in a white tuxedo as a piano in Best Actor in a Musical [winner]
Hugh Jackman as Peter Allen in his 2003 Best Actor in a Musical winning performance in “The Boy From Oz.”
Could modern technology and multi-tasking creative artists hamper the development of new American musicals? If they’re too busy working on TV, movies, web, and stage projects in different time zones and collaborating via email and Skype, well, then where’s the creative incubator?

NYTimes reporter Patrick Healy’s recent article about the troubled musical “Houdini” is a fascinating account about a show with various artist juggling various projects and a $500,000 investment that remains in limbo. It had been scheduled to open this season.

Hugh Jackman was cast as the Hungarian-American illusionist  and escape artist. It was to be Stephen Schwartz’s first for Broadway show since “Wicked.” Word-wizard Aaron Sorkin was working on the  script (“The West Wing,” “A Few Good Men,” “The Social Network”), but simultaneously writing HBO’s 
“The Newsroom.”

Shades of  Bialystock and Bloom

“My most successful musicals were singularly driven by their creators, not by me,” said Jeffrey Seller, the producer of Tony winners like “Rent” and “In the Heights” (and this season’s “The Last Ship,” which is closing Jan. 24), Healy writes in the Times. “It was the producer David Merrick’s idea to turn ‘The Matchmaker’ into ‘Hello, Dolly!,’ but it’s far more often the artists who start with the best ideas. Producers can help keep them focused and help fight the biggest enemy to making musicals — the multitasking that all of us do now.”

Healy also notes: The musical also points up the difficulties of star vehicles — once common in the era of Ethel Merman and Mary Martin — because most stars won’t commit anymore to a long development process and a year of performances. And “Houdini” is part of the trend of producers pushing to turn an idea or movie into a musical — rather than artists pursuing a passion project, with producers nurturing them.

To read the whole story (and, no , Healy is not paying me to promote his excellent stories about the business of show business), click here.