Doug Henning should make the Christmas blues vanish with ease. Unencumbered by a book, such as surrounded him in "The Magic Show" and engulfed him in the more recent "Merlin," the engaging magician is simply doing his thing, from card tricks to full-stage stunts, through the end of the month at the Lunt-Fontanne, with plenty of kiddie matinees. His glittery, tinselly, very showy show is made up of a selection of his best stunts with which he first took to the road five years back. Many of them you've seen before (the two-horse illusion has given way to a two-motorbike one, easier for travel and saving the cost of hay), but they're all worth seeing again, the shredded-and-restored newspaper trick as well as the Rube Goldberg contraption.
Henning has learned to talk, too, employing a slick patter and winning manner with kid assistants called up from the auditorium - arbitrarily or preselected, one can't always be sure. And his pretty wife, Debby, joins him in talk and stunts, a few of which she conducts on her own. There are also four dancing assistants, one of them the traditional leggy magician's helper, a role handsomely filled by Kathleen White.
The sets and costumes are properly gaudy, sparkling and numerous, and there's a brisk pit band to whose beat the Hennings as well as the dancers strut and glide.
This is a lavish and chock-full magic show, pure and complex, and I can't imagine anyone, young or old, not being taken in by it.
Who says they never learn? When that prestigious prestidigitator (if that doesn't sound too much like Spiro Agnew or William Safire) Doug Henning was last on Broadway, in the ill-fated Merlin, most of the critics suggested that he should keep the magic but make the rest of the show vanish.
Hey presto! Even Hey prestissimo! Henning has taken our advice to heart and with his new show Doug Henning and His World of Magic, at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater, Henning has nothing up his sleeve. In fact, in a figurative sense, he has no sleeve.
Let me hasten to explain, this is no cheapo-magico extravaganze - Henning is as lavish as ever with his appurtenances. We have a full orchestra, scenery, attractive helpers, including Henning's wife, Debby, and a small assortment of animals. There is even "choreography" and that kind of stuff - but, and here is the trick, this time, unlike Merlin, it is blissfully unnoticeable. And there is no trace of a story line.
This time out Henning seems content to come out on stage and absolutely amaze us - and I mean amaze us. His craft is extraordinary. I can never even understand how people can do three-card Monte, so I am a natural sucker for any kind of conjuring trick. And I truly love them.
I don't have to suspend my disbelief - it is taken out breathlessly and left there hanging for me. At this show the man behind me was droning to his friend how every trick was done. Even if he was right once in a while and I doubt it, he couldn't have been having much fun. Nor could his friend.
I just sat back in happy astonishment, while Henning did his Houdini-like escapes, fantastic card tricks, made handkerchiefs fly, tore a newspaper into ribbons and miraculously restored it pristinely intact, and kept on turning up in unexpected places.
He walked through a plate-glass mirror, made a motorcycle disappear (in Merlin it was a horse, such is progress!), made heavier than lead things float and did clever things with fire. In one scene he has a superb Rube Goldberg-style contraption that is a little working masterpiece of its kind.
Two points. First: I understand that in magic circles, Henning is occasionally criticized for his concentration on contraptions and mechanisms. Certainly magical effects are in ample use, but watch simply the man's sleight-of-hand, the miracle way he can palm a coin, or twist a card. This is by no means mechanical stuff. He is a master.
Second: I do wish he would be encouraged to use his mechanical skills in other branches of the theater. He could add so much to a ballet such as The Nutcracker or The Sleeping Beauty, and there are also certain operas where his services could come in more than useful.
So, if you are interested in this kind of thing, do not on any account miss this superior, action-packed, illusion-studded show. And don't leave too early. Remember the show isn't over until the fat tiger growls.
Doug Henning only seems to de-materialize - and re-materialize - and levitation is a mechanical rather than a natural wonder. But it is beyond the ken of nonmagicians to understand how he performs his illusionary feats. As we know from his first two Broadway shows and his frequent television appearances, he is a genial grand master of a magician.
''The Magic Show'' and ''Merlin'' were both book musicals, and one kept waiting for Mr. Henning to make the shows vanish and to return to what he does best. Now he has arrived at the Lunt-Fontanne Theater in an unpretentious entertainment entitled ''Doug Henning and His World of Magic,'' and it is almost all magic. With one sweep of his wand, he has banished Broadway musical accouterments, except for an orchestra led by Peter Matz and a few dances, which are to choreography what a 40-watt bulb is to a laser.
It is good to see Henning plain. His ''World of Magic'' must be considered a holiday treat for children, whom he welcomes into his act as volunteers. One child gets to lift off in a kiddycar. He dares his audience to solve his legerdemain, as he and his accomplices, who include his wife, Debby, mysteriously trade places with each other in locked trunks and boxes. Presto, he's in, she's out. Houdini had nothing on Henning.
At the same time, it is clear from the two hours of magic (including an excessively long intermission) that we are watching a touring show, and a small one at that, one that is not quite comfortable on a big Broadway stage. As conceived and directed by Mr. Henning, the show is designed to emphasize highlights from his past. But for all one hears about the star's think tank of magic-makers, ''World of Magic'' seems short on fresh invention.
Mr. Henning saws two women in half and then shifts tops and bottoms, as he did in ''The Magic Show.'' There are several variations on the Houdini trunk theme and there is only one attempt at a novelty. A Rube Goldberg contraption amusingly transports Mr. Henning from inside a sack to the interior of a large stuffed toy animal.
A few moments of spontaneity are contributed by animals. At Wednesday's matinee, a dove relieved itself on the star's arm, and in a climactic trick a tiger, replacing Mr. Henning in a box, was momentarily seen licking his chops. With such a tame tabby and such an artful conjurer, there was no need to worry about the fate of the magician.
In a new addition to his Broadway repertory, he performs small-scale sleight of hand, as seen in close-up on large television screens. He shuffles oversized playing cards, changing the faces with a dexterity that would dazzle a street-corner shell-game artist. He can make a silver ball float in space and a handkerchief fly like a fugitive ghost from an animated cartoon.
To the amazement of his eager volunteers, he plucks silver dollars out of the air and other unlikely places and turns a $1 bill into a $100 bill. If only he could do the ultimate Broadway magic trick and cut ticket prices for his three-week engagement so that the youngest theatergoers could readily watch him circumnavigate his ''World of Magic.''