May 11, 2006

Disney’s “Tarzan” musical wins mixed reviews in NY

By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Disney's latest mega-musical "Tarzan"
swung into town with a spectacular shipwreck scene and
bungee-jumping apes but the critics were lukewarm and several
resorted to phrases such as "bungle in the jungle."

"Tarzan," which opened on Wednesday night, is among the
most expensive musicals on Broadway with a budget reported at
between $15 million and $20 million. It is Disney's latest
effort to match the success of hit movie-based musicals such as
"The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast."

"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," was Ben
Brantley's verdict in The New York Times.

"'Tarzan' feels as fidgety and attention-deficient as the
toddlers who kept straying from their seats during the
performance I saw," Brantley said.

Several critics had warm words for the special effects,
particularly the opening scene, which uses aerial acrobatics to
create an eerie underwater shipwreck scene in which the baby
Tarzan and his parents end up washed up on an African shore.

"The opening minutes of 'Tarzan' ... are among the most
exciting and inventive I have ever witnessed in the theater,"
Charles Spencer wrote in London's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

But he added that despite some other fine effects -- "most
notably a trippy hallucinogenic sequence involving huge jungle
plants with human actors nestling amid their petals" -- the
show "almost invariably looks much better than it sounds."

The Star Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, and the New York
Post both settled on the headline "Bungle in the Jungle," and
Post critic Clive Barnes opened his review with the words:
"You, 'Tarzan,' Me, Agonized."

Washington Post critic Peter Marks also praised the opening
sequence but his review was summed up in the headline "Fumble
in the Jungle: Disney's Tame 'Tarzan."'

"The show ... has gorillas in midair, a potential
teeny-bopper idol in loincloth and Phil Collins as show-tune
guy," Marks wrote. "What it doesn't have much of is drama."


The show's star, Josh Strickland, whose most notable
previous engagements include a stint on the TV talent show
"American Idol," won mixed notices. Marks described him as "a
slender, wiry, sweet-faced variation of the ape man."

"It's hard to tell what kind of career is ahead of him
because in this outing he's called on mostly to act with his
torso," he said.

While there was plenty of criticism for the show, Disney
appeared to have emerged a clear winner against rival Hollywood
studio Warner Bros., whose vampire musical "Lestat" was almost
universally trashed by the critics two weeks ago. "Lestat" had
a budget estimated between $10 million and $12 million.

USA Today's Elysa Gardner gave "Tarzan" three stars out of
four, praising the "lush, fanciful scenic and costume design,"
the "sprightly libretto" and its "good-natured exuberance."

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Howard Shapiro also was
impressed, describing the show as "an eye-popping treat of
lighting, streamers and fabrics."

"Some people will inevitably call the shimmering stars,
massive fluttering fabrics, and huge strutting fauna downright
corny. I call them master stagecraft," he wrote.