Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Tarzan 101 | Tarzan of the Stage

Celebrating Tarzan's 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

Tarzan has had two major stage adaptations. In 1920, Arthur Gibbons bought the rights to turn Burroughs' first novel into a British play starring Ronald Adair as Tarzan and Ivy Carlton as Jane. Tarzan of the Apes played in the provinces for about a year, but never hit London before it was closed due to labor strikes in the English theater industry.

In Fall of 1921, George Broadhurst brought the play (and Adair) to Broadway, adding live lions and re-casting Jane with Ethel Dwyer. Unfortunately, the U.S. version only played for a couple of weeks. Tarzan would be finished with the stage for the next 85 years.

Following its success at adapting Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King into Tony-winning Broadway shows, Disney took a shot at giving Tarzan the same treatment. Bob Crowley designed and directed the show, with Phil Collins returning to create an expanded score and David Henry Hwang (M Butterfly) writing the book. Hwang's version changed some of the irritating qualities of the cartoon, changing Terk into a mentor for Tarzan and eliminating Tantor altogether. For staging reasons, the film's elephant stampede and baboon chase were also retooled (changing the baboons into a giant spider, for instance).

The show starred American Idol participant Josh Strickland as Tarzan and Broadway vet Jenn Gambatese as Jane. But though it was nominated for a Tony (Best Lighting Design of a Musical), like it's non-musical predecessor, it didn't inspire huge ticket sales and closed after about a year. However, it continues to be produced in regional theaters all over the United States.

It did much better in Europe, inspiring versions in the Netherlands and Germany. Both countries ran reality show contests to cast their Tarzans. In the Netherlands it was Wie Wordt Tarzan? (Who Is Going to Be Tarzan?) and in Germany it was Ich Tarzan, Du Jane!. The Dutch version ran for two years and became the most successful musical in that country's history. The German version is also a huge hit and has been running since 2008.

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