I’m assuming that when Disney optioned this show for the Broadway stage, they were under the impression that they were going to create a second Lion King. It would explain why this half-forgotten title was adapted long before several more obvious choices and several much more famous films.
The original Disney film is generally called the final film of the Disney Renaissance, and it was quite capable, but without anything close to the spark of an Aladdin or a Beauty and the Beast. Unfortunately, it was severely unsuited to being adapted to the musical stage. For one thing, what essentially carries the entire movie is its stunning animation and exciting action sequences, things that were impossible to transfer to the stage version.
Another problem with making this film into a musical was the fact that the music was the film’s weakest component. Now, for the record, I’m a great admirer of Phil Collins’ work in his Eighties heyday, but by the time he wrote the score to Tarzan, he was way past his peak. Of the film’s songs, only “Two Worlds” bears even a hint of the percussive edge that made his early work so interesting; otherwise, there’s nothing here but pleasant-but-undistinguished Nineties pop tunes, including a syrupy ballad called “You’ll Be In My Heart” that won a very undeserved Oscar.
When the stage version was created a decade later, Collins augmented the film score with a collection of new songs so anemic and nauseatingly bland they actually make the songs retained from the movie look downright robust by comparison. The lyrics to these songs are laughably cliched, full of stock love song phrases like ‘My heart is beating faster’ and ‘She makes me feel so alive’. The book is arguably even worse: it’s so full of quotably idiotic dialogue that mocking it became something of a sport among reviewers.
The Disney marketing budget and a flashy production (not to mention the lack of valid competition in the disappointing 2005-2006 season) managed to keep the show open longer than it deserved, even in the face of open critical scorn. But Broadway audiences, who are often smarter than the critics give them credit for, ultimately saw through its total lack of merit, and it closed at a well-deserved loss. Disney’s other Broadway failure, the stage version of The Little Mermaid, was a sad loss of a show with many good qualities that got hung up on one unfixable flaw, but this is just garbage; it is by far and away the worst of the Disney stage musicals.