Wednesday, July 18, 2007

“When you’re listening to this, try to ignore the lyrics. I know it’ll be difficult, but block them out. They’re not the best . . ."

The full title: “When you’re listening to this, try to ignore the lyrics. I know it’ll be difficult, but block them out. They’re not the best. But the tune is beautiful.” or . . . Upon Finally Buying the Tarzan OBCR

The fact that it took me eleven months to buy the Original Broadway Cast recording of Tarzan says a lot. I consider buying the cast recording an essential part of attending a Broadway show. You’ve just doled out $50-$125 (or maybe even $450) for a show, and listening to the CD is one of the best ways of remembering what you saw. The only other Broadway recording to get such a delay from me was Brooklyn, which was a length of about seven months.

I detailed some of my thoughts on Tarzan in a June blog entry entitled “Broadway Funk: Overhauling Tarzan,” so no fear, I’m not going to go into that here.

Upon hearing the new songs again for the fist time since last August, two observations come to mind. First of all, the lyrics are as bad as I remembered them. The songs from the original film are great, but of all the new songs, only the lyrics of “Who Better Than Me” rival those of the original songs. Even the lyrics of its reprise fall short.

But I’m also struck by how beautiful Collins’ music is and how the songs truly communicate important ideas in the story. Take “I Need to Know,” young Tarzan’s aching lament about his between-two-worlds life. The lyrics, yes, are dopey, but the concept is dead-on with what the character is experiencing, and its unusual melody is both melancholy and searching. It helps that Alex Rutherford has a strong voice but is also vulnerable in communicating the character’s predicament. Because of the lyrics, the song is almost un-listenable, but if you can block them out, the tune is very fitting.

Another great tune is Jane’s “Waiting for This Moment,” which, in its music, effectively expresses Jane’s excitement and wonderment around her. I honestly don’t know how much of that credit goes to Collins’ original music or to Doug Besterman’s orchestrations, but I can honestly say I love hearing that song.

“Different” is another example of this phenomena. It has a strange melody, but when you listen to what the lyrics are pounding into your head, that melody is very fitting. I have also fallen in love with Jane and Porter’s “Like No Man I’ve Ever Seen,” which is so whimsical in its orchestrations that it makes for a fun listen . . . despite the lyrics. It suits the characters perfectly . . . musically, that is.

The songs from the film make for excellent listening in their new arrangements, and I would actually be satisfied with my purchase with those songs alone.

This recording really makes me long for the Tarzan that might have been. If you watch the bonus features of the Brother Bear DVD, for which Phil Collins wrote songs that rival his film Tarzan songs, he addresses his experience co-writing the film’s underscore. When asked to write songs for Brother Bear, he expressed his desire to Disney to tackle the film underscore, so they paired him up with Mark Mancina, who has written a number of film scores. On the DVD, Mancina talks about hearing Collins’ first attempt at scoring. Collins thought it was great, but then Mancina used it as a learning experience to show him the many places where it needed improvement. By the end of the film, there wasn’t one ounce of bad underscore, and you can’t tell where Mancina’s work ends and Collins’ begins.

It’s a tragedy that that didn’t happen here. Listen to the music! It’s wonderful music. Had Collins’ been paired with a theatrical lyricist, such as David Zippel, something great could have evolved from what we have here. From the interviews on the DVD, Collins seems like a true artist, more concerned about the result rather than ego. I bet he would have been open to working with and learning from a collaborator.

I also can’t possibly talk about the Tarzan OBC recording without addressing the talent. Holy cow, I love hearing these voices! I was so thrilled to get beloved Merle Dandridge on CD, and I can’t get enough of her “You’ll Be in My Heart.” I also love hearing her in “No Other Way” because you hear a hint of her great interpretation of Aida in her passionate stance for her adopted son. Her amazing voice always rises above all those lyrics she’s given.

A pleasant surprise is Jenn Gambatese. Wow! I can’t get enough of hearing her sing on the CD. What a pretty voice in a traditional theatre sense. I love her playful line “I’m not following you, Daddy,” and her “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, no.” Yes, I know the latter is pretty pathetic lyrically, but she’s so cute when she says it.

Josh Strickland, whose great voice I vividly recalled from seeing the show, is in strong form on the CD. I do hope he gets a shot at a role in a better show. Chestor Gregory II is also in fine voice.

No shocker, Shuler Hensley sounds great. He makes for a strong but human ape leader.

I also think Disney should be applauded for giving both talented actors who portrayed Young Tarzan a chance to sing on the CD. You know darn well it cost them a pretty penny to do that when they didn’t need to, but how generous of them considering how one of those kids would have felt at not having the chance to record.

So, maybe I’m just another Man in Chair (and you know many of you are, too), but he describes the Tarzan CD best when he says:

When you’re listening to this, try to ignore the lyrics. I know it’ll be difficult, but block them out. They’re not the best. But the tune is beautiful.

Broadway Mouth
July 18, 2007

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