Elton John's
vampire and Phil Collins's jungle lord battle on Broadway

The lines are
drawn for a classic Broadway musical showdown—Disney,
Tarzan, and Phil Collins on one side, Warner Brothers, the
vampire Lestat, and Elton John on the other. The
reigning champion of Broadway with long-running hits
such as The Lion King and Beauty and the
, Disney's latest megamusical about the
jungle man Tarzan is one of the most expensive shows
ever mounted. Rival Hollywood studio Warner Bros. is
challenging Disney with its first foray into musicals,
Lestat, which opens on Tuesday and is based on
Anne Rice's vampire novels and features songs by Elton John
and his writing partner, Bernie Taupin.

Walt Disney Co.
and Warner, part of Time Warner Inc., both refused to
discuss their budgets. But with Lestat reported
to be costing some $10 million to $12 million and
Tarzan said to have a budget of $15 million to
$20 million, both are among the most expensive shows on the

After dismal
reviews at a San Francisco run at the end of last year,
Lestat is fighting an uphill battle. The show
grossed $4.3 million in its pre-Broadway run, but the San
Francisco Chronicle
called it "didactic,
disjointed, oddly miscast, confusingly designed, and
floundering in an almost unrelenting saccharine score
by Elton John." Taupin said 65% to 70% of the show has
been changed, and producer Gregg Maday told Sunday's
New York Times he was still trying new
versions of the first 20 minutes in previews. "We may have
limped onto Broadway as the underdogs, but underdogs
bite back occasionally," Taupin told Newsday.

Lestat needs to overcome the curse that has
dogged previous vampire musicals on Broadway, such as
Dance of the Vampires, which lasted just a month
in 2003, and Dracula, the Musical, which
survived only five months in 2004. Then the challenge is to
make a coherent show out of Rice's The Vampire
, which The New York Times
described as "highly detailed, graphically violent and
narratively complex, full of morally ambiguous,
pansexual characters."

Tarzan, based on the 1999 animated film and the
classic Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, should be a safer bet
for Disney in a business where family shows often
prevail. The music by Phil Collins will be familiar to
many from the movie. But with no out-of-town trial run
and with producers doing their best to keep critics away
until just days before the May 10 opening night,
Tarzan remains an unknown quantity.

Argentine Pichon
Baldinu, creator of the successful aerial acrobatic
troupe De La Guarda, was brought in to train the cast to use
harnesses and bungee cords to climb walls, swing, run,
and jump around the set. The cast has no big-name
stars. The lead is being played by Josh Strickland,
whose main claim to fame is a stint as a competitor on
American Idol in 2003.

Previews of
Tarzan have been completely sold out, while
Lestat has been playing to around 80% capacity.
A hit musical can gross around $1 million a week on
Broadway, which can be multiplied many times if it tours and
spawns other productions around the world.

William Wolf,
president of the Drama Desk critics group, said both shows
could prove highly marketable—Tarzan as a
family show, Lestat due to Rice's popularity.
She has sold more than 50 million books. "Anne Rice has a
big following...and there's not too much around for
families," he said. "Sometimes these shows can be
critic-proof." (Claudia Parsons, Reuters)

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