Adelaide Herrmann does not have the name recognition of Harry Houdini. But at the turn of the 19th and 20th century, dubbed the “Queen of Magic,” she was the star. Now, almost a century since her death, the story of her and those around her is being brought to life in a rock musical of the same name, running Dec. 1 through Dec. 3 at the Loeb Ex.
The discovery of Herrmann’s long-lost memoir and its publication in 2011 shed a new light on the figure and her complicated relationship with her niece-slash-assistant Adele. And, crucially, it inspired Veronica F. Leahy ’23, Andrew G. Van Camp ’23, and Samuel F. Dvorak ’23 to produce an original musical. The result was “Queen of Magic,” a rock musical with an original book by Van Camp, and a score by Leahy.
The two-year-long development process was anything but easy, however. Although the title — “Queen of Magic” — might be suggesting an homage to Adelaide Herrmann, the show ultimately ended up focusing as much, if not more, on Adele.
“My life for two years was figuring out every beat of this story,” Leahy said. “And literally after we thought we had it in August, we scrapped the whole thing.
“As we kept workshopping it over the summer … we found that the story was really more about Adelaide's niece, Adele, and that's what resulted in this final version,” Van Camp said.
The change came out of a desire to ensure that “Queen of Magic” does not become a simple “great man” story, solely focused on Adelaide’s career and her rise to fame.
“We couldn't just tell Adelaide’s story because that's actually falling into a lot of the same traps that the stories we're trying to challenge or nuance are like,” Leahy said.
“It's critiquing, almost, this narrative of great men, of looking at history through the lens of great individuals,” said Vander O. B. Ritchie ’26, who plays Harry Houdini.
As a result, the story pays less attention to the career, and more to the interpersonal relationships, conflicts, and sacrifices that both women made.
“This story is about relationships, fundamentally,” Ritchie said. “It's a show less about trying to tell the story of a great character — instead it's a show about trying to tell the story of these really interesting and really complex, and really difficult relationships.”
The focus on the personal side of the two protagonists gives the musical a chance to go beyond representation. “‘Queen of Magic,’ for me, perfectly captures the story of the quote-unquote girlboss … it is difficult for women to succeed in so many industries,” said director Eleanor M. Powell '25. “And women who do end up succeeding in these industries, often we deify and we also detest. I think that ‘Queen of Magic’ demonstrates forcefully that in order to be a woman who succeeds, there are certain sacrifices that you simply have to make if you live in a patriarchal society.
Few shows succeed at sharing an important message and remaining enjoyable. But, as Ritchie said, the complexity that they bring to the musical might make for its most appealing part. “These characters feel real and they feel like they each have perspectives and ideas that are maybe not entirely valid, but you can see where they're coming from. It really just makes the world feel alive and perfectly encapsulates a lot of the issues that it's trying to deal with in a really realistic way,” he said. “There are moments in the show that are heartbreaking and heart-wrenching. There are moments that are really goofy and really fun.”
“It's just so fun being able to explore this character [of Adelaide] and exploring her wittiness, her darkness, her lightheartedness, her humor, her connection to her niece, kind of her toxicity as well, and really being able to acknowledge that at the same time,” said Cybèle Fasquelle ’25, playing Adelaide Herrmann.
The exploration of the already engrossing story is made all the more interesting by the music and songs that accompany it. Leahy, who is behind the música aspect of the show, has her background in jazz music, which heavily influenced the show’s score.
“The one thing I'm particularly excited about is to bring this groove-based score that I think is catchy and fun and makes people enjoy the show, but at the same time also bringing in improvisatory moments,” Leahy said.
The show’s intimate venue and the visceral themes it explores made some of the cast members cry. Now, the team hopes that the audience will be moved and brought “outside of the comfort zone.”
—Staff writer Zachary J. Lech can be reached at email@example.com