Thursday, June 15, 2006

Yeah, how was "Tarzan"

A few posts ago, I mentioned seeing Tarzan on Broadway.  Wil asked how it was.

I sort of avoided the question because it's hard for me to just say how a play was without getting into a full-blown review.  And since I was on vacation, one of the benefits was seeing plays without having to do the whole reviewing thing, which I tend to do a lot of when I'm at home.  What with being a part-time theatre critic and all.

That said, I saw about a half-dozen shows on this trip, and I'll now share with you some brief thoughts on them.

The Lord of the Rings.  Yes, some genius decided to make a musical based on Lord of the Rings.  (Take a moment if you need to laugh.  I'll wait.)  It's playing in Toronto.  I had to see it.  Not so much because I like Lord of the Rings and I like musicals.  But rather, because sometimes a show sounds like such an amazingly bad idea, I sort of want to be there to see the train wreck.  Surprisingly, it wasn't that bad.  This isn't to say it was actually good -- only that it had its moments and with a great deal of work, it could be turned into something affirmatively entertaining.  But I think their biggest mistake was in choosing where to put the songs.  Having the hobbits sing at the Prancing Pony -- fine.  Having the Elves sing something ethereal and new agey whenever they're around -- fine, too.  Having Aragorn sing about accepting his destiny -- laughable.

Tarzan.  OK, here's the thing.  When Disney put The Lion King on Broadway, they had all those gorgeous masks and costumes that suggested or represented the lions (while in themselves giving the impression of being culturally African in style).  In Tarzan, you've got actors in monkey suits.  They've hired some really excellent talent to play Tarzan's adoptive ape parents -- and then they've dressed 'em in fur and made 'em drag their knuckles when they walk.  I kept thinking back to the dignity that Mufasa had in Lion King -- the actor didn't run around the stage on all fours pretending to be a lion; he stood up brave and tall like the king that he was.  Tarzan doesn't seem to pay any more attention to the essence of its ape characters beyond the fact that they're apes -- and that's why this show will only work for family audiences impressed by all the swinging on bungee cords.  It doesn't transcend its story and enter the realm of art.

The Wedding Singer.  The show that won the Tony for Best Musical this year is Jersey Boys, a show I did not see.  Jersey Boys tells the story of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons through their music.  The suggestion has been made that I had no interest in Jersey Boys because the music of the Four Seasons holds little nostalgia value for me.  Similarly, if you don't have warm, fuzzy feelings about the pop culture of 1985, don't see The Wedding Singer.  I do remember 1985 -- I graduated High School that year -- and as someone who grew up with all of those songs and fashions defining what was hip, I found Wedding Singer to be a damn funny trip down memory lane.  But, I mean, if you're not going to burst into spontaneous applause when the cast of wedding guests goes into the zombie choreography from "Thriller," this one isn't for you.

The History Boys.  This is the play that won the Tony for Best Play this year.  It probably deserved it.  (I didn't see all of the other nominees, so can't be positive.)  It's one of those stories about a teacher and his class of really bright students, and how he challenges them and teaches them the things they need to know that are outside of books.  But there are, shall we say, complexities to the story -- and the relationship between the teacher and his students isn't as straightforward as it first appears.  Neither is the play.  There's a lot going on in it -- it's the sort of play you want to buy the script for and read at your leisure, because (from the audience) you've gotten a glimpse of some concepts you think the playwright is getting at, and you need a little more time with it to really get hold of them.

Faith Healer.  This is a quirky little play.  It's a piece about a travelling faith healer (who works extremely small crowds -- think 3 guys in a church basement, not a great big revival tent) and it is told strictly through monologues.  The faith healer himself has a half-hour monologue, then the woman who travelled with him, then his manager, then one last one from the healer.  And between the three of them, a story is revealed, although since they all viewed the events differently, you sometimes have a hard time figuring out which one of them is telling you the truth at any given time.  On Broadway, Ralph Fiennes is playing the faith healer so I thought, "Hey, let's check this out."  Ian McDiarmid, who is also no slouch in the acting department, is playing the manager -- and he manages to steal the play right away from Fiennes, which isn't easy. 

The Lieutenant of Inishmore.  It's really funny.  And it's really bloody.  I mean, really bloody.  I mean, stage-soaked-with-bloody-corpses bloody.  But funny.  Outrageously funny.  I've seen lots of people try to describe this play and I don't think any of them quite prepared me for what I was getting into.  Imagine an "I Love Lucy" episode where Lucy does something stupid and she and Ethel try to get their way out of it before Ricky comes home -- and end up just making it 12 times worse with one of Lucy's ridiculous schemes.  Now imagine what she's done is accidentally kill Ricky's cat.  Now replace Lucy and Ethel with a couple of Irish guys, and replace Ricky with an insane terrorist who loves his cat very much and will certainly kill Lucy when he finds out something has happened to his cat.  And he's on his way home right now.  That's The Lieutenant of Inishmore.  It's a silly farce -- excepting that it incorporates elements of torture and murder.

Bet you can't wait to see that last one, huh?

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