Friday, July 22, 2005

WHAT'S NEXT? PEOPLE PLAYING CATS? The latest of the ongoing flood of Disney movies slouching towards Broadway to be born appears to be Tarzan, with a score by Phil Collins (Me Tarzan, You Sussudio?) and book by David Henry Hwang, who wrote the astoundingly brilliant M. Butterfly as well as the astoundingly dreadful "updating" of the book for Rogers & Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song.

Ordinarily this tidbit of news would hardly register on my radar screen. Although my formerly impressive theatregoing habits were decimated by the birth of Cosmo Girl a couple of years ago, I try to stay plugged into goings-on in the Broadway world. I do, however, tend to ignore the Disney musicals where possible. I was dragged to Beauty and the Beast against my will a number of years ago at my mother's request and found the experience positively painful. Even The Lion King, which is still selling out eight years after opening, thanks to the myriad Asian and European tourists who fill its seats day in and day out, is really only impressive for director Julie Taymor's creation of the African animal kingdom on stage. (Which really is quite magical, but people should feel free to go to sleep right after "Circle of Life" comes to its grand and booming conclusion.) The story itself works better as the animated musical whence it came.

But something like 80% of Broadway theatregoers are non-New Yorkers, and if tourists want to schlep to New York and shell out a hundred bucks a ticket to see a dancing teacup or a flatulent warthog "live" on stage, far be it from me to stand in their way.

So why am I paying any attention to "Tarzan! On Broadway!"? Not because I begrudge Disney another blockbuster musical, and not because I am setting my calendar to remind me of the day when tickets go on sale, but because of a blurb I saw this morning indicating that an actor named Shuler Hensley has been cast as some primate or other in the upcoming Tarzan production.

A few years ago, Hensley won pretty much every award there was to win for his portrayal of Jud Fry in the most recent revival of Oklahoma. I'm not sure I've ever seen a more riveting performance. It was painful and horrible and spellbinding and magnificent. And now he's gonna wear an ape suit in Tarzan. Sigh.

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