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Could "Tarzan" 's lousy reviews translate into an early exit for Josh Strickland?

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Could "Tarzan" 's lousy reviews translate into an early exit for Josh Strickland?

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First there was Disney's "Tarzan," the movie. Which was closely followed by Disney's "Tarzan," the soundtrack; Disney's "Tarzan," the action figure; Disney's "Tarzan," the Happy Meal toy; Disney's "Tarzan," the theme park attraction; Disney's "Tarzan," the animated television series and -- inevitably -- Disney's "Tarzan," the direct-to-video sequel.

And now there's Disney's "Tarzan," the new Broadway musical. Or -- as the New York critics prefer to call this show -- Disney's "Tarzan," the pinata.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, LLC

I mean, have you heard about the critical drubbing that this new musical (which just opened on Broadway this past Wednesday night) received? The critics were absolutely brutal.

Here's a sampling of what they had to say:

Tarzan Arrives on Broadway, Airborne

The tree-surfing title character is not the only creature sailing through the air in "Tarzan," the giant, writhing green blob with music that opened last night at the Richard Rodgers Theater. Apes, flowers, moths, a snake, a leopard, a hut-size spider, two shipwrecked Victorians, an English botanist in her underwear: no sooner do such figures make their entrances in this restless adaptation of the 1999 Disney animated film than they find themselves pulled into some kind of airborne aerobics.

Almost everybody and everything swings in "Tarzan." Which is odd, since the show itself, to borrow from Duke Ellington's famous credo, definitely ain't got that swing.

-- Ben Brantley, The New York Times

Bungle in the Jungle

YOU, "Tarzan"! Me, Agonized!

Disney's new musical swung shakily into the Richard Rodgers Theatre last night, and as far I'm concerned, it can swing right back out again.

-- Clive Barnes, New York Post

'Tarzan': Me, critic; you lame!

I found myself consulting my watch frequently during "Tarzan," the Disney musical that brings the current Broadway season to an inglorious close.

-- Howard Kissel, the New York Daily News

This apeman's story lacks in hang time

Tarzan wears a leather loincloth and flies over the audience on a rope. Gorillas spin around in aerial cartwheels like hairy tumbleweeds. Even Jane finds herself airborne in the clutches of a gigantic spider web.

Flora and fauna and fur balls hang in the jungle stratosphere with agile beauty in "Tarzan," Disney's latest animation-to-Broadway musical. The only hanging the show doesn't do is hang together.

-- Linda Winer, New York Newsday

Beastly "Tarzan"

"Tarzan'' does for gorillas what "Lestat'' does for vampires -- very little.

-- John Simon, Bloomberg

"Tarzan" : 4 out of 10 Stars

"Tarzan" has a promising start -- a brilliantly staged shipwreck -- but the musical itself doesn't fly at all.

-- Jess Cagle, WCBS

Fumble in the Jungle: Disney's Tame 'Tarzan'

You Tarzan. Me looking at watch.

-- Peter Marks, the Washington Post

King of the bungle: Monkeys at typewriters could write a better show than 'Tarzan'

The Disney organization spent a rumored $15 million to $20 million to bring Tarzan to the stage. And what they have to show for it is a wimpy, shifty-eyed, lost little boy.

-- Lawson Taitte, the Dallas Morning News

"Tarzan" will have you yelling

Orthopedists and chiropractors, take note: A golden career opportunity may have just arrived on Broadway.

-- Elysa Gardner, USA Today

Disney Brings Tarzan to Broadway

Tarzan, baby, you've come a long way from the days of Johnny Weissmuller -- and that's not necessarily a compliment.

-- Michael Kuchwara, Associated Press

Mind you, those folks who checked out "Tarzan" 's reviews on line yesterday got a rather gruesome chuckle from some of the ad buys that Disney Theatrical had supposedly done prior to "Tarzan" 's official opening on Wednesday night. As you can see by looking at these image captures of the New York Times webpage ...

Copyright 2006 the New York Times

... as well as the New York Newsday webpage ...

Copyright 2006 New York Newsday

... you have these incredibly brutal reviews of "Tarzan" in ridiculously close proximity to brightly colored ads that loudly trumpet that "More tickets (are) on sale now!"

Speaking of tickets sales ... When I spoke with the house manager of the Richard Rodgers theatre on Tuesday night, he told me that -- at that time -- they were already selling tickets to "Tarzan" through December of this year. Early on Thursday morning, Disney Theatrical reportedly put seats for January & February of 2007 up for sale. Though -- given the complete lack of a line at "Tarzan" 's box office yesterday -- I'm told that most of those new seats are still up for grabs.

So what do all of these awful reviews and/or the public's seeming disinterest in buying any tickets for performances of "Tarzan" beyond December 2006 mean? Well, I know that a lot of people are already predicting that Disney Theatrical will move quickly to close this $15 million flop. Sweep this expensive embarassment under the rug and then concentrate all of its efforts on successfully transferring "The Lion King" from the New Amsterdam to the Minskoff, and then focusing on "Mary Poppins" Broadway debut in the Fall.

But me? Based on what I've been hearing, I think that Disney Theatrical is going to try & make a go of it with "Tarzan." Take all of the Mouse's marketing might and then try & turn this critical disappointment into an "Aida" -sized success. I mean, let's remember that that Elton John musical didn't exactly get great reviews when it opened at the Palace back in March of 2000. But through careful promotion (as well as regularly dropping new pop divas into that show's title role), Disney Theatrical was eventually able to eek out a very respectable run for that much maligned musical.

And given that "Tarzan" is a better known brand name than "Aida" ever was, it will probably be that much easier for Mickey to market his new musical to tourists. Particularly given that -- even though most of the critics hammered on "Tarzan" for having such a lackluster book and/or uninspired direction -- nearly all of the reviews mentioned (at least in passing) how how spectacular the show looked. How impressive this new musical's flying effects were ... At least for "Tarzan" 's first 10 minutes, anyway.

To be honest, if there's anyone who should be worried right now, it's probably Josh Strickland, the former "American Idol" contestant who plays the title role in the Mouse's new musical. From what several Disney Theatrical insiders have told me, one of the company's rescue plans for "Tarzan" (As they desperately search for ways to incite theater-goers to come cough up $100+  for an orchestra seat at their new show) involves quickly buying out Strickland's contract and then hiring some name performer / celebrity to come in & play the role of "Tarzan."

So if you want to see Strickland swinging down from the mezzanine at the Richard Rodgers, then you'd best start "Movin' Out" for this 46th Street theatre. For there may be some other better known performer filling Tarzan's loincloth in the not-so-distant future.

Anyway, that's the latest on Disney Theatrical's latest production. I'll be back with more information on "Tarzan" and its troubles next week. But -- for now -- you folks have a great weekend, okay?

Your thoughts?

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  • Hey: "Disney's "Tarzan," the direct-to-video sequel."

    There were actually two.  But very easy to forget, I know.
  • Replacing Josh with a name performer/celebrity? If it happens it will be interesting to see who it is...I would love to see the short list of potential's....
  • Having just this week been reading Ken Mandlebaum's master encyclopedia of famous Broadway flops ("Not Since Carrie"), I think Disney Theatrical, being New At This, seems to be a little unacquainted with *why* there's a broken heart for every light on Broadway--
    It's Disney's first flop outside of the parks, and DT seem to be beating their heads in astonishment saying, "Huh?...How could THAT happen??"  Guys...It happens.  All the time.

    We seem to have forgotten, in this logo-marketing-driven, post-Cameron Mackintosh age, that A) beyond the T-shirt sales, it's still possible to mess up, and mess up big time, and B) you only get ONE chance, since Broadway can't "make its money back on DVD".
    You mess up, you close early, you take your lumps, figure out your hard-earned lessons (Mandlebaum devotes a chapter to five or six "common mistakes", and more than a few of them came from badly translated movies), and dig up the next script.
    Show business is a *voluntary* business:  No one ASKED Disney to make musicals out of their films, and no one is charity-subsidizing their "right" to continue if they're slaughtered by the reviews--If at first you don't succeed, and well, which case does this look like?
  • Jim your response to this show opening (quite possibly the second biggest "goings on" at Disney this year) is dismal.  You saw the show twice and are posting nothing new up for your readers.  Also you are not even addressing the site-line issues some of us ticket holders have.  And about Josh Strickland, I would watch who you recast if I were you.  Jane, Kala, Terk and Clayton could all easily be recast with any of Hollywood's fading stars.  I doubt very much Disney would recast this show so soon with a cast recording due out in June.  Josh has actually gotten fairly good press.  Your article is a huge disappointment from everything else you done about Disney Theatrical thus far.  Also Tarzan’s ticket sales are something like $20 million dollars.  That’s a lot of bread for a new show, hardly a flop.  Unlike Lion King, Tarzan walks on two legs so don’t expect it to outlast that, but if Beauty can survive 10 years of steady tourism so can this new show.
  • I'm mostly just curious to know who they have in mind for the role of Tarzan. Obviously, having never seen the show or heard a cast album (not out yet) I don't know how stringent the vocal requirements are, but clearly for the role of Tarzan, they are not looking to replace him with any big theater names, and will be looking for find someone from TV or Film (I don't see Nathan Lane or Matthew Broderick in a loin cloth)

    Maybe Chris from this season's Idol is available
  • Just one note, the USA Today review wasn't negative.  It received three out four stars.
  • I wouldn't say that Strickland is going to be bought out of his contract.  It's not necessary; the next couple of months are sold out, and Disney can pretty much ride on its initial sales and brand-name-recognition through Christmas.  It's after that when they'll bring in names.  Which is (unfortunately) normal for many Broadway shows.  This'll run about 2 years, and then they'll close it out gracefully.

    By the way, the critics were right on with this one.  Fifteen minutes in, it just turns to crap.  At least Aida had some moments.  Tarzan was just awful onstage.
  • Uh, Jim, the USA Today review was actually a rave. The critic loved the show. Don't take stuff out of context in order to bolster your own opinion, okay?
  • Wow, way to be a glass-half-empty type person today Jim. The reviews were mixed. Yes, there were bad reviews, but there were also very good reviews. How about we get an article that shows both good & bad reviews (and shows the reviews in context). I mean, here you are complaining one day that Disney took The Wild's reviews out of context and now you are doing the same thing.
  • ROTFL!!! Those critics should be writing broadway shows for Disney! I haven't seen the broadway show but they sure painted a pretty picture. I am gathering that Jim didn't enjoy it all that much either?:)
  • why why why do they do these things???
    you know, I work in the professional theatre, and I swear ever since the auditions were announced I have not heard a single comment from a colleague expressing enthusiasm for this project.
    BEAUTY AND THE BEAST seemed like a Broadway musical from it's very beginning, the movie itself feels like one. Same thing with MARY POPPINS. I personally didn't agree with much of LION KING on stage (I hated the "word for word" translation of the screenplay into the stageplay) but no one can deny that it was staged magnificently. But TARZAN? Other than the money guys, who saw the potential of two franchises to be milked with this one (i.e the Disney film recognition and the basic name recognition for the character)
    did anyone say "hey! this property as conceived may not be our best bet for a stage drama!" so, what do they do... they clutter up Broadway with another empty headed tourist trap spectacle show.
    And it's not just them! I hear there are plans in the works for stage musical versions of SHREK and BATMAN.
    here's a tip , Disney: Next time you plan a musical, choose something that makes more sense AS  musical!
    Whats next? are we gonna be lining up in a few years to see Idina Menzel and Nathan Lane in LILO AND STITCH: THE BROADWAY MUSICAL???
    Heavens preserve us!
  • One reason Disney Theatrical could happen is the Curse of Cameron:
    The more commercialized Broadway shows become in the search of tourist-bus name value outside of NYC, the more that only Big Corporations (mostly studios) can afford to produce them...And Big Studios don't tend to be wildly creative about what gets produced:
    You might remember a certain legendary flop that's talked about to this day, name of "Seussical"...That only--ONLY--happened because Universal had bought film rights to Dr. Seuss's books (which, yes, makes it a blood cousin to that "Cat in the Hat" fever-dream), and saw Broadway as a new Third Arm of movie marketing.  Ditto with "Wicked", which also had Big-Studio money paying for the big sets and easy-appeal book, but was at least good enough to distract us away from "Who MADE this mess?" (Although the real NYC theater community was rooting for the homegrown "Avenue Q" to David-and-Goliath the big boardroom boys at the Oscars, and when they did, it was seen as a moral victory.

    ...And why do I mention Universal and Warner dabbling in Broadway lights?  Take a wild guess who's looking at Shrek and Batman.  And where they got the idea.
  • I know it's probably too early to be asking this but will this have any effect on the Little Mermaid musical?  I mean if Tarzan tanks completely will Disney thrown in the towel on everything but Poppins?
  • As someone who witnessed firsthand the disastrous Boston tryout for SEUSSICAL I can at least point out one element of that terribly misguided show that was (to my mind at least) a success... it's lovely score by Ahrens and Flaherty, who's equally impressive RAGTIME was out-tony'd by LION KING a few years back, and who's ONCE ON THIS ISLAND would make a terrific animated film. (for that matter, their ANASTASIA score would be perfect for a Broadway musical....hmmmm... and their "Bartok the magnificent" was in my mind the best animated video sequel we've seen yet....double hmmm!)
    It's a funny thing to note that two shows currently recieving universal bad notices, TARZAN and LESTAT, have similarly badly recieved scores written by pop stars..... again, HMMMMMM...maybe there's a lesson to be learned out there, people?
    I think that part of the reason BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (and the upcoming LITTLE MERMAID for that matter) are ideal shows for stage adaptation are that thier scores are written by Broadway composers, who are used to creating songs that emphasize storytelling and emotional resonance, rather than pop music that emphasizes beat and repitition.
  • Um-yah. The lesson is that a lot of people like to step _way_ out of their boots to cash in on the "great animation grabfest", and they don't care a hoot for the medium-- or the folks who see it-- only for the moolah; the glamour of the merchandising. When I think of all the $appy, $acharine $tuffing that has passed for animation over the last decade or so, I could just cry. Shmaltzy, icky, soulless yucko!
    Once a character would have his own identity; the actor would accomodate the character-- not vice versa. But celebrity actors took over the voices, and the characters-- milking their identities, and the films' budgets. I am sorry if it seems abraisive to the great actors of the world, I love you guys a lot-- but you guys all have your live action stuff. I don't know who's bright idea it all was, but it was a bad one for animation. Why not leave the animation credit to the people who shelled out thousands of bucks and decades of their lives to _learn_ the craft? Animation is the ugly stepchild of the film industry-- at least that's how we are treated. Everybody walks all over us.

    We're sick of it!!!

    People who don't cartoon shouldn't be directing the contents of animated fare. I am the _exception_! I have been assisting a gifted cartoonist for over a decade here, and I am a children's writer by nature. It's WHO I AM!!! Just because I share a couple of opinions that rub people a bit wrong doesn't give every "politically minded individual" online license to dance in and use my ideas without even tossing me some _work_! I need to live TOO you know-- and if my thoughts are good enough to steal, then surely I must be EMPLOYABLE!!

    Show some bloody CLASS, people! People who don't write broadway should not be writing for broadway. How would you like it if a bunch of fat, ugly animators invaded your live action flicks? Seriously. Leave the theater to the people who have _studied_ it. All you're doing is lowering the bar-- just lowering the bar, and messing with other people's livelyhoods. PEOPLE WHO-- LIKE IT OR NOT,  KNOW BETTER THAN YOU because it's WHO THEY ARE!!! It's WHAT THEY _DO_!!! I am sorry, but it's just plain WRONG.

    And no-- I am NOT the one who needs to _grow up_.

    Rant over.
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