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Could "Tarzan" 's original screenplay provide the key to saving Disney's still-floundering new musical?

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Could "Tarzan" 's original screenplay provide the key to saving Disney's still-floundering new musical?

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With little more than two weeks 'til "Tarzan" officially opens on Broadway, things are reportedly getting a little tense at the Richard Rodgers theatre. Where -- in spite of all the changes that have already been made to this new Disney musical -- preview audiences still aren't all that enthusiatic about this $20 million production.

Don't believe me? Then drop by talkinbroadway.com & broadwayworld.com's discussion boards. Here, you'll see dozens of posts from theater-going vets who have already attended preview performances of "Tarzan." And these folks are carping about virtually every aspect of this new musical. Finding fault in the show's lackluster sets & costumes, the sameness of the songs in Phil Collin's score, even with individual actors' performances in this particular production.

Of all the elements in this extremely troubled musical, the one that's been singled out for special scorn is David Henry Hwang's book. Virtually every post about "Tarzan" that's been posted on these Broadway-based discussion boards complains about this show's lackluster libretto. Insisting that Hwang did an extremely poor job of adapting Tab Murphy, Bob Tzudiker and Noni White's screenplay to the stage.

Of course, to be fair, Hwang was kind of handcuffed. Given that the powers-that-be at Disney Theatrical insisted David Henry hue extremely closely to the final script the 1999 animated blockbuster.

One wonders if the Broadway version of "Tarzan" would be a much more entertaining musical if David had just been allowed to incorporate some material from this movie's first screenplay. Which actually took Tarzan out of the jungle and placed him in London's high society. Where the Lord of the Apes had to stop Jane Porter's impending wedding to the villainous white hunter, Clayton.

What's that you say? You're not familiar with this version of Disney's "Tarzan"? Well, here. Let me share what the third act of this animated feature was originally supposed to be like:


Well-appointed carriages pull up outside a stately mansion.

Inside, a society ball is in progress celebrating the impending marriage of Clayton and Jane. Jane looks stunning in her evening gown, though her eyes betray a sense of loss and resignation. She is the mere shell of the woman we knew in the jungle. Deep in despair, she has accepted the union with Clayton as inevitable.

At one point, overcome with emotion, Jane steps outside on the terrace for some air. She stands alone, staring up at the stars. Suddenly, the
sounds of the jungle surround her. Is it her imagination?
A dark shadow drops from above and lands softly behind her. Jane turns and catches her breath. Tarzan steps forward into the light. Without a word, Tarzan takes Jane in his arms and they begin waltzing to the music emanating from

Searching for Jane, Clayton steps out onto the terrace and stiffens at the sight of his betrothed dancing with a stranger. "What'ss going on here?" When he sees who the stranger is, Clayton's jaw drops. He forces a smile- "Well, this is a surprise..."

Clayton then tells Tarzan that he and Jane are to be married the next day. When Tarzan looks at Jane she avoids his eyes. Heartbroken, Tarzan
prepares to leave. "Nonsense! Come join the party!"

Clayton then puts an arm around Tarzan and leads him inside. He introduces him to the other guests as the "man raised by apes." The crowd gathers. Clayton takes the opportunity to humiliate Tarzan, telling the audience that "he can do tricks."

Clayton holds out a banana. "C'mon, Apeman. Can you scratch your head?" Jane has had enough. "Stop it, Clayton!" But Clayton persists. In a cruel and heartless fashion he exposes Tarzan's savage side much to the shock and delight of the guests.

Feeling ever the outsider once again, Tarzan flees the party. Furious, Jane stuns the guests by breaking off her engagement with Clayton and going
after Tarzan.

Trying to find a way out, Tarzan stumbles into Clayton' s trophy room. He stands surrounded by all his friends from the jungle, their heads hung from the walls, staring out through lifeless eyes.

Thousands of miles away, the ape clan gathers in a natural amphitheater in the jungle, sensing that their King is in danger.

Tarzan wanders through the trophy room, his rage gathering like a storm in his heart. He stops in front of a life-sized gorilla, stuffed in a threatening pose, snarling jaws agape. Overcome, Tarzan falls to his knees, throws his head back and lets loose the anguished cry of a great bull

In the jungle, the apes echo their King, sending up a collective roar that causes all the birds in the jungle to flush from their roosts.

"Am I to assume you disapprove of my little collection?" Tarzan turns. Clayton steps from the shadows. He unsheathes a rapier, indicating with irony that Tarzan is about to die while all his 'friends' helplessly look on.

Clayton attacks. A duel between savage and civilized man ensues. At one point, an oil lamp is knocked to the floor, setting the room ablaze!

In the jungle, the ape gathering is suddenly interrupted by the appearance of Kerchak. The former King has returned to reclaim his throne. He strolls into the midst of the clan, swatting several apes out of his path. When Kerchak asks if there are any objections, one amongst them steps forward -- Terk. He calls upon all his courage and engages Kerchak in a deadly fight to the finish.

As Tarzan and Clayton battle, so does Terk and Kerchak. Terk is bruised and bleeding. At one point, he produces Tarzan's knife which causes Kerchak to hesitate. Although he believes in the power of the knife, Terk opts to rely on his own skills and strength to defeat Kerchak. He tosses the knife aside. Kerchak scoops it up and charges ...

Tarzan and Clayton's duel continues while fire consumes the room. Clayton's grisly hunting trophies explode in flames.

In the end, it is Clayton's own jealousy and greed that does him in. Even as Clayton admits killing Kala for 'sport,' Tarzan makes the civilized choice, opting to save Clayton instead of destroy him. We are left wondering who is the real savage and who is the nobleman?

As Clayton's mansion goes up in flames, Tarzan and Jane embrace. Tarzan vows to stay with her, to try and fit in to Jane's world. But Jane realizes there is still one last sacrifice to be made in the name of true love ...


In the jungle, news of a ship anchored in the bay has brought the curious ape clan to the beach. They watch from the safety of the trees as a boat puts ashore a familiar looking man and woman.

Can it be?? Standing together on the beach, Tarzan and Jane watch as the ship weighs anchor and sets sail. They turn only to be overrun by the jubilant ape clan. Tarzan has returned!

Everyone falls silent as Terk steps forward and offers Tarzan back his knife. Tarzan sees the scars crisscrossing his friend's chest and the
newfound maturity in his eyes. Tarzan refuses the knife. "It is yours, my King." Tarzan kneels before Terkoz.

With that simple act, Terk ascends to the Kingship he has always dreamed of and Tarzan and Jane return to the jungle paradise where they first met and fell in love to live happily ever after.

Now what's particularly intriguing about this first version of the screenplay for Disney's "Tarzan" is that it hues that much more closely to the storyline of Edgar Rice Burrough's original novel, "Tarzan of the Apes."

So what do you folks think? Would the material that I've shared above (Which was culled from Tab Murphy's May 1995 treatment for Disney's "Tarzan") make for a more entertaining musical? Or would you prefer that Disney Theatrical stick with the storyline from the 1999 animated feature?

Your thoughts?

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  • Well, the "English mansion" probably wouldn't have helped anyway, seeing as Clayton is now a Southerner...  ;)

    But anyway--Basically turning it into Disney's live-action "Jungle Book"?...Mm, nahh.
    I'm for just going down with the ship and letting DT take their expensive lumps on this one (and Poppins)...And maybe it'll scare them out of their "$95 video-rental with the loopy changes" craze for a while, and in the future, only getting a show going when they have something *original* to show us.  Or "if".
  • I agree that DT needs to start coming up with some original ideas.  "Aida" has done well, and it didn't start out as a movie.  I'm thinking that, with all that fire in that screenplay, it would cost a lot of money, and why would Disney want to spend more money when they can produce the show for less?  I found that screenplay to be interesting; it captured my attention, but I, personally, like the more kid-friendly version.  I think that new songs will cause for new scenes, but, besides those new song scenes, they should stick more towards the storyline of the movie.  Some people are going because they love the movie, and if it differs too much, they might complain.  It's bad enough Clayton's a Southerner, and people will be complaining how that's different.  Sometimes people don't like familiar things to be different.
  • I think that more needed to be made of the ending in the Broadway version. It didn't seem to have enough of a kick, and the fact is that both the animated version and the screenplay above have strong endings. Why they chose to leave the ending kind of limp is beyond me.
  • Sounds too much like "George of the Jungle" to me.
  • ----
    blackcauldron85 said:
    I think that new songs will cause for new scenes, but, besides those new song scenes, they should stick more towards the storyline of the movie.  Some people are going because they love the movie, and if it differs too much, they might complain.
    There's an odd sort of audience paradox about putting "new scenes" into an old-movie paste-up:  
    Audiences and producers assume that they have to bring *something* new to the table to justify the ticket price, but when they do, it seems like piling insult on injury--Not to come down too hard on the musicals, but we can assume most audiences in the back of their  minds are grumbling at least a little bit about seeing what they can rent at home, and are going in saying "Okay, if we're going to get a video pageant, do it ALL, and show me"...And then, when we do get loopy changes out of nowhere, it feels like a bit "They couldn't even grant the movie THAT shred of dignity?"

    LIke we said before, it's a thankless task, that original musicals will never have to worry about.
  • Wow, that Act III had me riveted. Would liked to have seen that on screen. I'm guessing in that version,  Terk wasn't going to be played by Rose O'Donnell.
    But would it help the play? Maybe. I just think doing Tarzan on Broadway was a bad idea to start with. Seems more like a theme park production to me. I just don't have any interest in seeing it. Am looking forward to Mary Poppins, though.
  • I saw Tarzan a few days ago and thought it was great. I was in the very last row in the Orchestra section expecting the worst but getting the best. So yes, sightline was not an issue. I do admit though, there are a few notable flaws in the show.....
    1) The Clayton story is pointless. They took him from being a trully evil englishman who had all the other sailors allegience to a minor character who wasn't all that evil & who got walked away in cuffs. My advice to them, make the ending with Clayton a bit more dramatic.
    2) The sets were not very good. The opening set looked extremely bad, but once the regular set came out, it was okay. At least the special effects made up for it though.
    3) They have to find some way to hide the ropes that attatch to the characters. It just looks ugly.
    4) Minor, but they need to refurbish the outside of the theater. Compared to the beautiful entrance to the Lunt-Fontaine and the grand entrance to the New Amsterdam, this theater's outside wasn't all that pretty.

    That said, I thought it was great. The acting was good by everyone (especially Young Tarzan who got the biggest clap at the end). I also loved their adaptation of Terk, and the way they tweaked the story line to make more Tarzan/Mom moments. And just like the movie, the end (where Tarzan tells his mom that wherever he goes, she'll always be his mother) was very emotional and done very well.

    So while not as good as The Lion King, I think this is a very good show that's definitely worth a visit.
  • I was skeptical when they announced all these new plays. Mary Poppins seems like a logical move to the stage, Tarzan though? I thought this was a bad idea from the beginning. While it was an okay movie, it wasn't a Beauty and the Beast. Or a Peter Pan, or even a Lion King. Not to mention, it wasnt the characters who supported the soundtrack, it was Phil Collins.

    It just seems someone at Disney decided that "well, we made money with Beauty and the Beast, and the Lion King, so we'll make even more money if we start pumping out every animation we've done into a play" Whats next? Black Cauldron: The Musical?

    Even Finding Nemo: the musical at Animal Kingdom is going to be a stretch I think.

    Sorry for the pessimism, But aside from Everest, the last Disney attraction attempts have been almost suicide. (i.e. Stitch)

    I just never thought Tarzan would have been a good idea in the first place.
  • I am thinking that Tarzan is a bit of a stretch because it has been done so many times it is a bit clicheed. That particular scene you have there reads somewhat ridiculously for me too. It doesn't hold the weightiness of a heavy dramatic theatrical production, but nonetheless expects to garner that sort of validation. So it strikes me as, well, silly more than anything; silly satire.

    When I go out to see theater, I want to be treated to a new twist; something unexpected. Maybe Disney would do well to adapt some I.P.s explicitly for this purpose, instead of always trying to capitalize from hits in their line of animated features. It always stuck me as a bit, well, tacky, when commercial cinema hits are adapted to the theater. I realize it sometimes works, but maybe the trend is beginning to get a bit tired? I know everybody I know let out an audible moan of contempt when we heard that LOTR would be adapted to the theater…

    And, if you can forgive me for stooping to include a third paragraph here, I would dare to suggest that it is not in Disney's best interests to base their decisions on anonymous posts from public message boards, which are not reliable sources of information. Many posters may appear to be credible, but there are so many ways of masking one's ID online, and an endless array of highly creative, malicious intent and subversion awaits the likes of Disney on the internet, and this could result in significant losses for the company in the long run. Just my two cents.

  • Interesting. I never knew that there was a treatment of the script that included the London trip. I'm finding myself dissapointed that it wasn't included in the movie. It's too bad that there's this magical U.S. animated movie running time of 85 minutes that all stories need to be whittled down to fill. That's why the Incredibles was so impressive—because they took however much time was needed to tell the story.

    Regarding the broadway play, It seems like the change in the setting would do it justice and would be a refreshing change to the otherwise bland constant jungle scenery.
  • I think that act III sucks
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