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Monday Mouse Watch: A somewhat obstructed view of "Tarzan"

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Monday Mouse Watch: A somewhat obstructed view of "Tarzan"

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It's one of Broadway's hard & fast rules. That a critic (or anyone else, for that matter) isn't supposed to review a show prior to its official opening. To do so robs the show's creative team of the chance to make any necessary changes. Add new scenes, cut songs that aren't working. Even recast roles if need be.

Photo by Jeff Lange

And given that the performance of Disney's "Tarzan" that I attended this past Friday night was this new musical's very first public performance ... Well, it really wouldn't be fair to the folks at Disney Theatrical if I were to go into too much detail about what I saw. At least not until "Tarzan" completes its preview period and officially opens at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on May 10th.

But I will say this much: Disney Theatrical already has a serious problem on its hands with "Tarzan." Given that -- what with the way that director Bob Crowley is currently staging this new musical as well as the way the Richard Rodgers Theatre is laid out -- almost a fourth of the seats in the orchestra section have a seriously obstructed view of this show.

To explain: You have to understand that the key gimmick behind the Broadway musical version of Disney's "Tarzan" is flying. Thanks to the aerial design of Pichon Baldinu, gorillas on bungee cords bounce up & down and then swing out over the orchestra pit. At one point in the show, a beautiful lady dressed as a butterfly dangles over the audience's head. Even Tarzan himself (as an adult, anyway) makes his big entrance by grabbing a vine and swinging down from the mezzanine onto the main stage.

And given that all of these aerial antics play such a big part in Crowley's vision for "Tarzan" ... Well, that's why Disney Theatrical so aggressively pursued the Richard Rodgers for this particular show. It was thought that this theatre's height (as well as its steeply raked auditorium) would best accomodate all of Baldinu's flying rigs.

Well, those people lucky enough to have seats toward the front of the orchestra really get to enjoy all of "Tarzan" 's aerial choreography. While those seated in the back 10 rows of orchestra (Thanks to the Richard Rodger's low hanging mezzanine) missed out on much of the stuff that supposedly makes this new Disney Theatrical production seem special.

Photo by Jeff Lange

Take -- for example -- Jane's initial encounter with Tarzan. Ms. Porter finds herself trapped in a giant spider web some 25 feet off the stage floor as an enormous puppet version of an arachnid slowly moves toward her. But before Jane can become a spider snack, Tarzan suddenly swings in and scares off the spider. The ape man then cuts Jane out of the web and gently lowers her back to the jungle floor.

That sounds a pretty exciting scene, don't you think? Well, the only problem is -- from the back 10 rows of the orchestra -- this scene was virtually impossible to view. Audience members seated in that part of the auditorium could only see the bottom third of the spider web. While these ticket-holders could clearly hear all of the dialogue, they had absolutely no idea what was going on until Tarzan finally lowered Jane back down to the stage.

To be fair, Disney Theatrical has been trying to get the message out about the potential poor sightlines at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. Take -- for example -- this language that you'll find over at the Ticketmaster website when you inquire about the availability of "Tarzen" tickets:

"Partial view seats are located in the rear of the orchestra ... A section of the theatre above the stage cannot be seen because of the mezzanine overhang."

More importantly, all of the tickets that were sold for this particular part of the house were clearly stamped "Obstructed View." But that didn't stop some audience members who were seated in the affected section of the Richard Rodgers from complaining longly & loudly once "Tarzan" 's intermission finally arrived.

Photo by Jeff Lange

Right after Act I, several angry audience members confronted the General Manager of the Richard Rodgers Theatre in the lobby. Insisting that they had paid good money for seats that would only allow them to see a third of "Tarzan" 's first act. Which meant that the deliberately vague term "obstructed view" didn't even come close to describing how truly awful these seats were.

The poor General Manager of the Richard Rodgers apologized repeatedly for all the show's sight line problems but then insisted that his hands were tied. That -- because Bob Crowley had chosen to stage this new musical in the way that he had -- that the problem here wasn't really with the theatre. But -- rather -- with "Tarzan" 's creative team. Which is why all complaints about how little of this show could be seen from that particular section of the orchestra should be directed to Disney Theatrical Productions.

Given the number of times that the Richard Rodgers General Manager repeated Disney Theatrical's address (1450 Broadway. New York, NY 10018) that night, I have to assume that Thomas Schumacher & Co. are going to find quite a few angry letters waiting for them once they get into work this morning. From disgruntled Disney fans who felt that they missed out on too much show thanks to that low-hanging mezzanine.

Photo by Jeff Lange

To be fair, there weren't quite as many sight line problems with "Tarzan" 's second act. But that was mostly because Act II was when Professor Porter, Clayton and the rest of the members of their expedition entered the jungle. And given that none of these characters could logically swing on vines ... Well, that meant that Bob Crowley had no choice but to stage this section of "Tarzan" in a much more conventional manner (I.E. With the actors keeping both feet on the stage floor).

Mind you, that is not to say that Act II doesn't have its own unique set of problems to deal with right now (I mean, was it really necessary to turn the character of Clayton -- who, in the Disney's 1999 animated film, was an English gentleman -- into a Southern redneck? One that -- thanks to lines like "I guess that we're going to have to do this the good old American way: Through brute force" -- seemed to be taking none-too-subtle jabs at President Bush).

But -- as I said earlier -- it's not really fair to talk about a Broadway show that's still in previews before it officially opens. Which is while I'll hold any additional comments until Disney's "Tarzan" officially opens on May 10th.

Oh, alright. I'll make one other final comment about this show before closing out today's story: I just find Disney Theatrical's priorities to be rather bizarre.

Photo by Jeff Lange

I mean, here the DTP management team thought far enough ahead to create souvenirs for their newest musical. So that even the people who attended this show's very first preview would still have a wide variety of t-shirts, collectible pins and latte mugs to chose from. Each of them emblazoned with the Disney's "Tarzan" logo.

And yet Disney Theatrical Production still thought so little of "Tarzan" 's audience that it allowed Bob Crowley to stage this show in such a way that a fourth of the audience missed out on 2/3rds of the action in the first act.

I mean, don't these people realize that -- no matter how snazzy those Disney's "Tarzan" t-shirts may look on tourists' backs -- it's still going to be the audience's word-of-mouth that actually is going to sell most of the tickets to this show? And when a fourth of the orchestra section is going home and saying things like "My seats were lousy. Thanks to that low mezzanine, I couldn't see most of what was going on in Act I" ... Well, in the long run, that's going to make it that much harder for this show to sell tickets. Particularly for those "obstructed view" seats toward the back of the house.

Sooo ... Before they get around to tightening up "Tarzan" 's opening and/or finding a way for the audience to better connect emotionally with the show's main characters, here's hoping that this show's creative team takes a long hard look at the sightline issues at the Richard Rodgers. Because that seemingly small problem could eventually wind up having a huge impact on this Broadway show's box office.

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