Entertainment » Theatre

It’s a jungle out there! "Tarzan" tour takes a wild turn

by Jenny Block
Contributor
Tuesday Dec 16, 2008
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A certain loin-clothed jungle hero was going to swing into town this coming spring. But Tarzan’s been grounded. Walt Disney authorized four cities to do the musical Tarzan: Raleigh, NC; Atlanta, GA; Dallas, TX; and San Jose, CA. The show was first slated to be built in Raleigh. But when the Executive Director of the theater slated to host the show resigned to take a position with Casa Manana in Fort Worth, Texas, the theater decided that it was no longer able to produce Tarzan.

Then, the show was scheduled to kick off in Atlanta at the Theater of the Stars. In order to build the show, Dallas Summer Musicals and The American Musical Theater of San Jose each put up $225,000 for costumes, scenery, props, and other production costs. After its run in Atlanta, Tarzan would have then moved on to Dallas and, after that, San Jose. It’s a procedure that’s apparently very common in the theater world. "But it’s not common to not build a show," after the money has been put up, says Michael Jenkins, President of Dallas Summer Musicals. But that’s exactly what happened.

The Atlanta Theater of the Stars used the money for other things, namely their growing debts and other productions. They sold $800,000 in tickets and were carrying a $2.5 million debt. As a result, there wasn’t any money left to produce Tarzan. So the cast and crew were disbanded. (Ticket holders will receive refunds, and there will be a replacement show, though not in January when Tarzan was scheduled to run.) The disbandment took place twelve days before Dallas Summer Musicals was even notified there was a problem. So, at that point, there was no way to get the cast and crew back to mount the show here in Dallas, which is what Jenkins would have done had it been possible.

Jenkins has been in this business for many years, he explains, and has never seen this happen. "It’s terrible. We’re incredibly disappointed. However, we will recover by having a great show as an alternative." Jenkins says they have turned the issue over to the legal department at DSM, and they are aggressively pursuing the issue. There is no doubt in his mind that the money will be recovered, Jenkin says. And "we certainly want it back as a non-profit, especially in this economy."

The good news is that a replacement show has been chosen and it’s one that’s likely to be a big hit on the Dallas Theater scene - Mamma Mia!. It won’t play in the Tarzan time slot - which was an early one for DSM as it was - and instead will run from August 18 - 30.

The loss is a terrible blow for DSM and the Dallas theater-going community, of course. But it certainly could have been worse - like it was in California.

In fact, it completely wrecked the American Musical Theater of San Jose. They had to go out of business, file for bankruptcy, and lay off their entire staff. "Even though it wasn’t their fault," says Jenkins. The San Jose Theater offers only three shows in their season compared to DSM’s 22, which explains why the disaster was fatal there but not here.

Bottom line? "Dallas Summer Musicals is not in jeopardy of going under," Jenkins is assuring Dallasites. I’d say that’s worth a good chest pounding any day.

Jenny Block is a Dallas based freelance writer and the author of "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage" (Seal Press, June 2008). Block’s work has appeared in Cosmopolitan (Germany), USA Today, American Way, BeE, bRILLIANT, the Dallas Morning News, D, Pointe, and Virginia Living, as well as on huffingtonpost.com, yourtango.com, and ellegirl.com. You can also find her work in the books "It’s a Girl" (Seal Press, March 2006, ed. Andrea J. Buchanan) and "One Big Happy Family" (Riverhead Press, February 2009, Rebecca Walker, ed.).

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