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A rather theatrical edition of "Why For"

Jim Hill

Jim's musings on the history of and rumors about movies, TV shows, books and theme parks including Disneyland, Walt Disney World. Universal Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood.

A rather theatrical edition of "Why For"

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First up, Leslie C. writes in to say:

Your "Tarzan" story on Monday must have really struck a nerve with Disney Theatrical. By Tuesday afternoon, Schumacher's flunkies already had an article up on Playbill.com where they denied that "Tarzan" had any significant sightline issues. They also insisted that the box office staff at the Richard Rodgers had been completely straight with people about which seats in the orchestra section  actually had obstructed views of the stage.

When Disney suits move this fast to cover their asses, you just know that you've shined a spotlight on a problem that they'd really prefer had been left in the dark.

So keep shining that spotlight, Jim. It's stories like this that make me come by your website every morning.

Keep up the good work

Dear Leslie C.

Thanks for your kind note. And -- yeah -- I also saw that same piece over on Playbill.com. And I have to admit that I thought that it was pretty amusing to see Disney Theatrical execs moving this quickly to try & do some damage control. To try & convince theatre-goers that "Tarzan" really didn't have any sightline problems.

And yet -- right there in the middle of that March 29th article -- you had David Schrader (I.E. Disney Theatrical's managing director & chief financial officer) saying things like "There are 24 rows in the orchestra and we're only talking about the last four" and "From the day tickets went on sale, the last four rows of the orchestra have been identified as obstructed view."

Which is all well & good ... Except for the fact that you have several generations of NYC theatre-goers who have been taught to think that the term "obstructed view" and/or "partial view" means ... Well, that you're going to have a pole somewhere in your field of vision or that your seat is so far to the left or the right that you won't be able to see some of the action on stage. With the operative word here being "some."

But in the case of "Tarzan," "obstructed view" and "partial view" means something entirely different. What with all the flying that's done in the first act of this show ... Well, anyone who's seated under the mezzanine may find themselves missing out on many of the key moments in this musical.

"How many key moments?," you ask. Well, how would you feel if you bought a ticket to the Broadway version of "Tarzan" and -- because your seat was in the "partial view" and/or "obstructed" section of the orchestra -- you wound up not having a clear view of:

  • Tarzan's parents' escape from the shipwreck at the very start of the show
  • Tarzan's parents' gravity-defying arrival on shore
  • Their dramatic deaths at the hands ... er ... the claws of a leopard
  • Most of the aerial acrobatics that the gorillas do during their introductory scene in "Tarzan"
  • Most of Terk's introductory scene in the show
  • A good portion of the shadow puppets that are presented during the "Son of Man" number
  • Adult Tarzan's dramatic entrance into the show
  • Jane being trapped in the giant spider web
  • Tarzan's subsequent rescue of Jane
  • Tarzan & Jane's Act II exit

That sounds like a pretty significant portion of the show that you'd be missing out on, don't you think? Which is why it's a little maddening to read (as part of Tuesday's Playbill.com piece) Schrader trying to be dismissive about "Tarzan" 's sightline problems, saying things like the " ... perception in your head is that you're missing something more than you are because you can't see it."

And then there's David's claim that "... we're only talking about the last four" rows of the orchestra being "partial view" or "obstructed view" seats. Well, that -- as it turns out -- is a pretty significant portion of the Richard Rodger's total capacity.

Don't believe me? Okay. Let's run the numbers, then: According to NYTheatre.com, the Richard Rodger theatre has 1,368 seats. And the back four rows of this theatre (I.E. Rows U, V, W & X) have a total of 143 seats. Well, according to my math, that means that just over a 10th of the people who attend performances of "Tarzan" won't really be able to  enjoy a significant component of this show (I.E. The flying).

And then -- when you take into consideration that this seating chart for the Richard Rodgers theatre clearly states that "Front Mezzanine Row A overhangs Orchestra Row J" ... Well, that means that theatre-goers who are seated in the rows directly behind Row J (I.E. Rows K, N, L, O, P, Q, R & T) will also have their "Tarzan" viewing experience significantly impacted.

Continuing to run the numbers here: We have 369 significantly impacted seats in Rows K through T. Now if we fold those 369 significantly impacted seats in with those 143 "partial view" and/or "obstructed" seats ... Well, you're now talking about 512 seats. More than a third of the total capacity of the Richard Rodgers theatre.

"But don't you think that you're making far too much of this, Jim?," you query. "Are New York theatre-goers really going to care that they can't see every single moment in this new Disney musical?"

Well, all I can say in response to that is take a look at "Tarzan" 's playbill. More importantly, look at how Disney Theatrical Productions has chosen to promote its new musical.

Copyright Disney Enterprises LLC

The most prominent image on that "Tarzan" playbill is that of the Ape Man swinging on a vine. Which pretty much says to me that -- if you buy a ticket to Disney's new Broadway show -- that you're eventually supposed to see Tarzan arrive on stage via vine.

Unless -- of course -- you happen to be seated in that part of the orchestra that (thanks to that extremely low overhang at the Richard Rodgers theatre) doesn't get to see a whole lot of the flying that's done in this show. Which (as I just pointed out) could possibly amount to as much as a third of the people who attend every single performance of "Tarzan."

Sooo ... Do you really think that these people -- after having paid good money for a seat at Disney's brand-new Broadway show, only to miss out on most of this musical's signature flying sequences -- are then going to go home & talk up "Tarzan" to their friends & family?

This is why I think that "Tarzan" is soon going to have a serious word-of-mouth problem. Which is why I think that this musical's production team has to move -- and move fast -- in order to mitigate this issue during the show's preview period.

I mean, does Disney Theatrical really want another weekend of preview performances to go by where audience members can then go home and say "I missed out on a lot of 'Tarzan" 's flying scenes because of where I was seated in the wrong part of the orchestra"? Is that really the message that the Mouse wants getting out about the company's new musical? That the show's sightlines (to quote one particularly opinionated New Yorker who attended this past Saturday night's performance of "Tarzan") "totally suck"?

Here's hoping that director Bob Crowley and his "Tarzan" production team realize that a single Playbill.com article isn't going to change the perception that their show has a serious sightline problem.

And if you guys think that I'm being mean or overly-dramatic here ... Well, wait 'til you see what happens when the New York papers finally get wind of this problem. And they then begin to go after the Mouse for daring to mount a new musical in NYC. One where a good portion of the audience seated in the orchestra section can't see the flying sequences in this show because of the awful sightlines at the Richard Rodgers theatre. Those stories are going to my pitiful little "Tarzan" -related pieces look like kindly Post-It notes.

Okay. That's enough "Trashing the Camp" for today. Let's now take a look at a letter from MattL Who writes in to ask:

Hi Jim

I was looking forward to "Over The Hedge" when Jim Carrey was announced as the raccoon. But a year ago Bruce Willis replaced him. What happened? Every time I see the trailer I can't help but see Jim Carrey in that role...



Dear Mattl

Boy, talk about your timing. Literally this past Monday morning, I got the chance to sit down with Tim Johnson (I.E. One of the two directors of this upcoming Dreamworks Animation release). And while the two of us were talking about the big screen version of Michael Fry & T Lewis' comic strip, the subject of Jim Carrey being the original voice of R.J. the raccoon actually did come up.

To hear Tim tell the tale, the real reason that Jim went over the wall after working on "Over the Hedge" for a while was that ... Well, Mr. Carrey? He's something of a method actor. Meaning that Jim likes to portray just one character at a time. Also that Carrey likes to stay in character the entire time that he's working on a particular motion picture (Which resulted in some very interesting stories coming off of the "Man on the Moon" set, let me tell you ... ).

Anyway  ... According to Mr. Johnson, this was the approach that Mr. Carrey supposedly wanted to take while working on "Over the Hedge." In that Jim wanted to get into R.J.'s  mindset and then -- over the course of a few weeks -- record all of the raccoon's dialogue. That way, he'd then be able to get his portion of this Dreamworks Animation project over & done with fairly quickly.

It was then that Mr. Johnson & his co-director, Karey Kirkpatrick, clued Mr. Carrey into the way that animated features are really made. That it usually takes three to four years to complete a single film. More importantly, that the actors who voice the lead characters often have to go back into the recording studio multiple times over the course of production. As individual lines are tweaked & rewritten, or entirely new scenes are suddenly folded into the picture.

Once he learned how animated films were actually made, Jim quickly realized that he wasn't going to enjoy this process. That -- given his own working methods -- it was going to be far too difficult (if not impossible) for him to maintain a consistent vocal performance over the course of the entire production. Which is why Mr. Carrey then decided to politely bow out of the project.

Copyright Dreamworks Animation

Which (admittedly) left Tim & Karey in a bit of a lurch. Until Jeffrey Katzenberg supposedly suggested that they now go after Bruce Willis (Who had done such a wonderful job playing a lovable scoundrel back in his old "Moonlighting" days)  as a possible new voice for R.J.

Willis eventually agreed to the gig (Where he proved be the perfect vocal foil for Gary Shandling 's overly cautious turtle). And as for the finished product ... Well, that rolls out in theaters on May 19th.

Which -- by the way -- you should really make a point of seeing, folks.

Why For? Because "Over the Hedge" is honestly the most entertaining motion picture  that Dreamworks Animation has ever turned out.

I mean, sure. This animation studio has produced some very funny films before ("Shrek" & "Shrek 2" immediately come to mind). But this is the first time (to my knowledge, anyway) that Dreamworks has actually gotten the mixture of humor & heart just right. Meaning that -- even as you're laughing at these characters -- you're also coming to care about R.J., Vern & Co.

Now this may sound like a very left-handed compliment. But -- me personally -- I think that "Over the Hedge" is the most Pixar-like film that Dreamworks Animation has ever produced. By that I mean: It's a  handsome looking movie that features lots of memorable characters as well as some really great animation. But -- more importantly -- it's a movie that's loaded with humor & heart. Which is why I am honestly over the moon about "Over the Hedge." I just can't wait to see this animated feature again.

And speaking of things that JHM readers should really check out ... Here. Please take a minute and go click on this link. Which should take you straight over the Disney Channel's home page.

For those of you who aren't willing to click, who want absolutely nothing to do with today's version of the Disney Channel ... Well, here. I've included an image capture of that webpage that I took yesterday afternoon. 

Notice anything unusual toward the center of this page?

If not ... Well, I'll let Jacob P.'s e-mail point the way:

I saw an ad on the disney channel website that you will be able to license HSM through Music Theater International in the fall. do you know any thing about this? Love the site!

Jacob P.

Dear Jacob:

Yeah, this sort of ties in directly with what I was writing about yesterday. About how the Walt Disney Company is  (in every way that the corporation can possibly think of) trying to capitalize on the phenomenal success of this original Disney Channel TV movie.

So -- as you can see by the application that I've also provided a screen capture of ...

... -- MTI is already accepting applications from theater groups around the United States who are interested in presenting an original stage adaptation of this incredibly popular TV movie.

Mind you, the libretto for this particular musical is still being written. But once it's completed, Music Theatre International will then begin licensing the rights to the stage version of "High School Musical" through its ...

... "Musicals from the Disney Collection" section.

Okay. I know. This new bit of information won't convince the crumudgeons who post on JHM's discussion boards (You know the ones that I'm talking about. The people who never forgave Disney Channel execs for taking "Vault Disney" off the air. Who insist that -- because this cable channel no longer caters to baby boomers -- it's totally useless nowadays. Who refuse to acknowledge that -- because of its new tween-friendly format -- the Disney Channel has become one of the real ratings powerhouses in today's cable industry) who insist that "High School Musical" is hardly worth mentioning.

Mind you, I don't think that the staffs of USA Today and the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times would actually agree with that accessment. But you are -- of course -- entitled to your own opinion. (*koff, koff* Grouchy old bastid *koff*)

Well ... Given that -- with a single column -- I've now managed to enrage both the management team at Disney Theatrical Productions as well as some of the surlier readers who regularly note on JHM's discussion boards  ... Which is why I now think that it's time that I called it a day.

You folks have a great weekend, okay? And don't forget to turn your clocks ahead on Saturday night, alright?

See you all bright & early on Monday morning. Til then, take care, okay?


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