February 24, 2006

Tarzan vs Vampires and ‘Man in Black’ on Broadway

By Claudia Parsons

NEW YORK -- Tarzan, the songs of Johnny Cash and a stage version of the movie "The Wedding Singer" are the highlights of the coming Broadway musical season, mostly made up of slick repackaging of books, music and movies.

A revival of "The Pajama Game" starring Harry Connick Jr. opened on Thursday to good reviews, the first of the big openings in the four months before the Tony Awards in June.

"If you close your eyes you really hear Frank Sinatra," said Simon Saltzman, acting president of the Outer Critics Circle, praising Connick's performance in the lighthearted show about love and labor disputes at a 1950s pajama factory.

"The Pajama Game" and "The Threepenny Opera," opening on April 20, will challenge last year's big hit "Sweeney Todd" for best musical revival, but many critics are more curious to see the crop of new musicals.

The gorilla of the bunch is Disney's "Tarzan," adapted from the 1999 film with music by Phil Collins. Disney hopes to ape the success of "The Lion King," the 1998 Tony award winner.

The show, which opens May 10, has been kept under wraps and much will depend its star, Josh Strickland, a graduate of Fox's "American Idol." Producers promise a technical spectacular, with lots of swinging from vines. "As long as Tarzan gets to sing as well as swing, it sounds like fun," Saltzman said.

"Tarzan" seems certain to beat the other giant of the season -- "Lestat," based on Anne Rice's best-selling "The Vampire Chronicles" with music by Elton John, which opens on April 25 after bombing in San Francisco.

"They've been rewriting the show and revamping it, but I would think it would need a massive overhaul of historic and miraculous proportions to be saved at this time," said New York Post critic Michael Riedel.


"Ring of Fire," featuring the music of country icon Johnny Cash, won good reviews in Buffalo, New York, last year before coming to the Big Apple.

Director Richard Maltby says it's not a biography and nobody will play the "Man in Black." Instead, it is the story of an everyman in middle America told through the lyrics of songs like "I Walk the Line" and "I've Been Everywhere."

"Broadway has never been hospitable to country music, so it will be interesting to see if the Johnny Cash show can survive," said Riedel. It opens on March 12.

Another potential hit is "The Wedding Singer," based on the Adam Sandler film. It won mixed reviews in Seattle. Producers are working overtime to fix it by the April 27 opening.

"We're a brand new musical," said Matthew Rego, one of the producers. "There's dialogue from the movie but most of it has been reinvented or re-examined," he said, adding that all but two of the songs in the show are new.

Opening April 30 but still shrouded in mystery is "Hot Feet," a dance musical featuring the music of Earth, Wind and Fire and billed as a retelling of "The Red Shoes" fable.

A late entry opening May 1 that comes to Broadway riding high on a wave of adulation in Los Angeles is "The Drowsy Chaperone," which takes over a theater vacated by the early closure of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Woman in White."

Producer Kevin McCollum describes it as a post-modern musical told through the eyes of "Man in Chair," who settles down to listen to a recording of a fictional 1928 musical, "The Drowsy Chaperone," which comes to life in his living room.

Created as a skit at a bachelor party, it is one of few new musicals not based on a movie, a book or existing songs.

"We're getting fewer and fewer original, surprising journeys in the theater," McCollum said. "This season this is the only thing that has no source material."