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Craig Zadan, 69, dies; produced musicals for stage, screen and TV

[LOS ANGELES] Craig Zadan, an ebullient showman who helped engineer a revival of Broadway musicals on television with live NBC broadcasts of The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, Hairspray and The Wiz, died onTuesday at his home Los Angeles. He was 69.

Robert Greenblatt, the chairman of NBC Entertainment, said the cause was complications after shoulder replacement surgery last week.

"He had a vision," Mr Zadan's producing partner, Neil Meron, said. "He could look at a property and knew what it would look like in the end."

Zadan (pronounced ZAY-dun) and Meron were a remarkably busy team, working in television and movies and on Broadway.

They were the executive producers of the film version of Chicago, which won the Academy Award for best picture in 2003. They staged Broadway revivals of the musicals Promises, Promises (2010) and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (2011).

They produced Smash, a TV series about the making of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe seen in the 2012-13 season on NBC. They also produced the Academy Awards telecast in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

In all, their productions won six Oscars, 17 Emmys, five Golden Globes and two Peabody Awards.

Their last major show together was a live version of the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical Jesus Chris Superstar, which was broadcast this year on Easter Sunday. Starring John Legend and Sara Bareilles, it was staged as a concert — as the composers originally conceived it — before an audience at the Marcy Armory in Brooklyn.

Lloyd Webber was mixing the music in the production truck when, during a commercial break, he burst into the part of the truck where Mr Zadan was. In an interview with the entertainment website IndieWire in June, Mr Zadan recalled Lloyd Webber excitedly asking: "What do you think of the audience response? It's so overwhelming. Do you think it's too much?"

Mr Zadan told him that there was not much he could — or would — do.

"We can't go out there and tell them to cool it," he said of the audience. "We want them to be as enthusiastic as they are."

Mr Zadan and Mr Meron had planned their next live musical for NBC, a production of Hair, and were working on a live TV version of A Few Good Men in collaboration with Aaron Sorkin, who wrote the original stage drama and the screenplay for the film, which starred Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson.

Both projects will proceed without Zadan.

He is survived by his partner, Elwood Hopkins.

Mr Zadan was born in Miami on April 15, 1949, to Murray and Naomi Zadan. Growing up in Brooklyn, and later in Far Rockaway, Queens, he became interested in Broadway and attended Saturday matinees. At Hofstra University, on Long Island, he ended a brief stint in the drama department to focus more on being the arts editor of the student newspaper.

"It was very, very difficult to be a student in the drama department and also review my professors' school shows," he told The New York Times in 1989. "I got a lot of pressure from them to quit the paper and concentrate on studying dramatic literature."

He stayed on at the paper and, after college, started writing freelance articles about the theatre for New York and After Dark magazines. But he was moving toward a career in the theatre.

He organised a musical tribute to Stephen Sondheim at the Shubert Theater in 1973; wrote Sondheim & Co (1974), a book about the making of Sondheim's musicals; and found a job as producer of a series of cabaret shows at the Ballroom in Manhattan, in which Broadway composers like Charles Strouse, Sheldon Harnick and Stephen Schwartz sang their songs.

At one of those shows, Lloyd Webber sang Don't Cry for Me Argentina, well before Evita, the musical of which the song is a part, opened in London. "Andrew jokes that it was the first time anyone ever directed him — and it was Craig," said Mr Meron, who had begun working with Mr Zadan by then.

The success of the Broadway at the Ballroom series led to positions for both men with Joseph Papp at the Public Theater, producing cabaret shows at the theater's Martinson Hall. After two years, they began working in Hollywood, but their pitches to make musicals in the 1990s fell almost completely on deaf ears.

"We'd go to studios with ideas to do movie musicals and they'd literally kick us out," Zadan told Theater Talk, a CUNY-TV program, in 2012. "They said audiences aren't interested in movie musicals. You're wasting our time."

Taking their pitch to television networks, they found a taker at CBS for Gypsy, but not before they had secured Bette Midler as the domineering Mama Rose.

"Craig got her on the phone after she'd gotten out of the sauna, so she was very relaxed," Mr Meron said. "He said, ‘Is this not the greatest role written for a woman?' And she said yes. And Craig said, ‘Is this not the opportunity of a lifetime?' She said yes, and she said she'd do it."

The success of Gypsy, broadcast in 1993, led them to ABC, where they produced Annie (1997), with Kathy Bates and Alan Cumming, and Cinderella (1999), with Brandy Norwood in the title role and Whitney Houston as the fairy godmother. All those shows were choreographed by Rob Marshall, who a few years later would win an Oscar for directing Chicago.


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