Disney’s “Tarzan” musical wins mixed reviews in NY
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 (8 to 10 million pounds). 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 theatre," 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."
FROM IDOL TO APE MAN
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.