The producing giant died at age 69.
If you’ve watched a musical on television in the last 20 years or slightly involved with musical theater, you know the name Craig Zadan. The producer was behind some of the latest televised musical incarnations including The Sound of Music, The Wiz, Hairspray, and Jesus Christ Superstar. He died suddenly on Monday at age 69 after complications from shoulder surgery. The musical world will not be the same without him.
Zadan was a producer on the latest revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. I saw it on Broadway because I wanted to see Daniel Radcliffe dancing around onstage, but I distinctly remember seeing Zadan’s name in the Playbill. I knew this man’s name, because he produced televised musical versions of Annie and Cinderella on ABC in the late 90’s. He was always someone whose name I knew, but I could never recall ever seeing him in person. For this blossoming, little gay musical theater nerd, he introduced me to both Bernadette Peters (as the Stepmother) and Kristin Chenoweth (as Lily St. Regis). I owe this man a LOT.
Before shepherding live musicals into our homes in the last 5 years, Zadan, along with producing partner Neil Meron, was behind other respected titles like Anne Frank and Serving in Silence: The Margarethe Cammermeyer Story. They were also producing partners on the 1993 version of Gypsy starring Bette Midler. Zadan and Meron’s production company, Storyline Entertainment, were also responsible for big screen adaptations of Chicago in 2002 (it was finally brought to screen after decades of production hell) and Hairspray in 2007 starring John Travolta, Queen Latifah, and Zac Efron.
Inexplicably, Zadan has been nominated for a staggering 14 Emmy Awards, but he has never won. In addition to being nominated for his aforementioned titles, he’s been nominated for producing the Academy Awards three times. His final nomination comes from producing this year’s Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert. It’s a favorite to win a lot of categories this season, and I hope it wins everything just to honor Zadan’s dedication to musical theater. He is still listed as a producer for the upcoming live presentation of Hair expected for next year.
To do well in musical theater–especially presentations that are broadcast around the world–one must know the dynamics of both the theater and television world. It is obvious that Zadan was able to dance between these worlds and deliver entertainment to satisfy both stage and television fans alike. On a personal level, I am still such a massive fan of NBC’s musical Smash that his death hurts even more. Zadan knew how transformative theater can be, and he wanted the world to know it.
Rest in peace, Mr. Zadan. We will dim the lights for you.