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'Tarzan' new line king

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Broadway Matinee

AS Clear Channel Communications retreats from Broadway, another corporate giant - Walt Disney - continues to expand its empire in Times Square.

Last week, in front of hundreds of group-sales executives, Disney unveiled plans for a $10 million (at least) stage version of its animated movie "Tarzan" that will open at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in May.

Usually at these events, the sales people are treated to a few musical numbers, and, if you sneak into the theater, you can get a pretty good idea of whether the show's going to be a stinker or a hit.

But "Tarzan" isn't even in rehearsal yet, so Tom Schumacher, the popular head of Disney's theater division, hosted what amounted to an informal chat show that might have been called "Tom and Friends."

Perched on a footstool, Schumacher, a charming ham, interviewed Bob Crowley, the director and designer of "Tarzan," while set models and costume sketches were projected on a giant video screen.

The prevailing image of the show is a giant green box representing the jungle. The sexy gorilla costumes look like something Cher would wear in concert.

Phil Collins, who wrote the songs for the "Tarzan" movie, is doing the score for the musical. He put in a "surprise" appearance, chatting with Schumacher and performing a medley of songs from the show, including his chart topper "You'll Be in My Heart."

Pichon Baldinu, the creator of "De Le Guarda," is designing aerial movement for "Tarzan."

Earlier this year, Baldinu staged an aerial workshop of "Tarzan" at an abandoned theater in Buenos Aires, and Schumacher played a video of that workshop for the group sales agents.

In the video, performers in crash helmets and body pads soared across the stage and bungee-jumped from the wings.

It was hard to know what to make of the aerial workshop. It looked more like an extreme sports event than a Broadway musical, but it was done without sets, costumes or lighting.

After the presentation, Disney hosted a private party at Chez Josephine, where the top group-sales executives got to mingle with Phil Collins - "he's cute and very charming," cooed one - and the other creators of the show.

Within a few days of Schumacher's presentation, "Tarzan" had sold around $8 million worth of group-sales tickets, production sources said.

One group-sales agent predicts the overall advance for the show could reach $20 million or more by the time previews begin in the spring.

"The Disney marketing machine is the best there is," this agent says. "Who else could produce Phil Collins for a group-sales presentation? They've got us eating out of their hands."

Footnote: By this time next year, Disney should have four of Broadway's top musical houses all locked up: "Tarzan" at the Richard Rodgers; "Beauty and the Beast" at the Lunt-Fontanne; "The Lion King" at the Minskoff (where it transfers from the New Amsterdam in the spring); and, moving into the New Amsterdam, "Mary Poppins."

Not since Cameron Mackintosh had "Cats," "Les Miserables," "The Phantom of the Opera" and "Miss Saigon" all running at the same time in the 1990s has one producer controlled so much Broadway real estate.

MAJOR Broadway producers are heading over to the 45th Street Theater to check out Paul Scott Goodman's "Rooms," a highlight of this year's New York Musical Theater Festival.

Among the VIPS on the guest list are Barry Weissler ("Chicago"), Jeffrey Sellers ("Avenue Q"), Chase Mishkin ("Dirty Rotten Scoundrels") and executives from the Shubert Organization and the Manhattan Theater Club.

A big draw surely must be the size of the cast - two. Which means a commercial run won't cost an arm and a leg.

"Rooms" tells the story of the romance that blooms between songwriting partners Ian, a rocker from Scotland, and Miriam, a Jewish girl from New York who loves Broadway musicals.

It's a sort of "They're Playing Our Song" for the "Rent" generation.

The show runs tonight and Friday night at 8.

An additional performance has been added Friday at 10:30 pm.

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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