With the new musical Tarzan, Phil Collins is coming full circle. The Grammy Award-winning songwriter made his stage debut at age 14 as the Artful Dodger in the original West End production of Lionel Bart's family-friendly musical Oliver! Though he won't be appearing onstage in Disney's Tarzan, which officially opens May 10 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, it will mark the London native's Broadway bow as a composer. In fact, the Tarzan score features five songs from the 1999 animated film of the same name as well as nine songs Collins composed especially for the Broadway production. Collins, who spent 25 years as a drummer and singer with the rock band Genesis, will also be heard on the Tarzan cast recording playing percussion and singing a bonus track of "Everything That I Am." The Academy Award-winning songwriter — Tarzan's "You'll Be in My Heart" won the 2000 Oscar for Best Original Song — recently spoke with Playbill.com about his first Broadway experience as well as his desire to create another stage musical.
Playbill.com: When did Disney originally approached you about turning the "Tarzan" film into a stage musical?
Phil Collins: Well, it was mentioned pretty much as soon as the movie was finished. . . . We kind of sat around and [thought] about how it could be done, what kind of guise that could take, and we put it on the back burner because, for obvious reasons, we didn't want to step on any Lion King toes, which was just coming out at that point. That delayed us because we wanted to make sure that we had an original take on it. It was probably a couple of years that went by before I got a phone call to go to London to meet [director and designer] Bob Crowley. "If you like him and he likes you," we would go [forward].
Playbill.com: How did your vision of how you thought the show would look compare to what it actually looks like now?
PC: Well, it's changed considerably. You give a designer a blank canvas, and he'll do what he likes to do, and then someone will say, "Okay, now we have to make this practical." [Laughs.] Originally, it was a huge show in the round, and then it went to a proscenium, which is kind of the way we all figured it had to go. But it was a double-sided proscenium. There were two audiences, in fact, with the proscenium in the middle of the audience. And that, of course, wasn't going to happen because it meant rebuilding theatres. It was fantastic, brilliant ideas, as one would hope and expect from Bob. But in the end it's turned to being a show in the theatre with his original ideas, which are pretty unique anyway. So, it's changed considerably, but at the same time, it's been this way for the last three years.
Playbill.com: How involved have you been in the Tarzan preview period? Have you had to write any new songs?
PC: Well, I've been here since Christmas. [Tarzan] started rehearsals 27th of December, and I've been here ever since. I was here at the auditions for the cast. I wanted to make sure that the voices that sang my songs were not gonna ruin the songs, if you like. [Laughs.] Broadway has many guises, and I wanted to make sure that there was a pop sensibility to this, and so I went to the auditions to put my twopenny worth in. Fortunately, everybody that I liked is in the show. And that's not because of me, but certainly my twopenny worth was worth putting in. And, we've been in previews since the 24th [of April], and I've been here — except for one week when I went back for my son's fifth birthday. Playbill.com: How much has the show changed since previews first began?
PC: Quite a lot. Obviously, previews are almost like an interruption of rehearsals. The way we've done this — because it was a pretty complicated technical show [with] flying and hanging — we decided to come in here and do three shows and then fix and tech for four days and then do another three shows and then fix and tech and so on until the show started to outweigh the teching days. Yesterday (May 3), the show kind of got frozen. So, we've been tweaking it everyday. Yesterday, we were in there with the music that starts it and the music that finishes it. I've written three new songs since December, not necessarily in my hotel room, but certainly between here and Geneva, going back and forth. So the whole concept, my naïve concept, of arriving and rehearsing the thing we've been writing for three years went right out the window when I arrived. These things, as they become real, they grow.
Playbill.com: Did you have an interest in Broadway or musical theatre before this experience?
PC: Yeah, at the age of 14 I was the Artful Dodger in Oliver! in the West End, and that was my first real professional acting gig. And from then I was going to the theatre every day singing those Lionel Bart songs, and I went back into it at the age of 18 when it came back into the West End after its initial run, which I was in. I went back as an adult part, and Cameron Mackintosh was our stage manager, and he was my understudy, which we find quite humorous. Barry Humphries was my Fagin, and it was a lovely time to be in London in the theatre. All the way along, sort of running parallel with that, I was really desperate to be a drummer, and that's when I joined Genesis. Basically, this is not such a stretch for me. It's a stretch doing it — I'm learning an awful lot every single day, and I'm loving it — but the idea of me doing it is not quite so out of whack with reality because on my iPod, there's My Fair Lady as well as Weather Report.
Playbill.com: Do you have other favorite musicals?
PC: Well, I loved Wicked. Never having seen a musical for a long time, I came to New York a few years ago whilst I was prepping for this, and I saw Idina Menzel in Wicked, just fell in love with her, thought she was fantastic. And that's really what made me realize that you could get pop voices on Broadway. . . And, of course, West Side Story is my yardstick. That's how I judge if I'm moved.
Playbill.com: Will you be singing on the Tarzan cast album?
PC: I have a track. There's one track, which actually, literally as we speak, I got this morning and is being mixed in London. We thought it was appropriate. At one point I thought I'd record all the songs on a record, but, of course, that takes a bit of steam away from the cast album. So, the cast album we did last week, I ended up playing percussion [and singing "Everything That I Am" as a bonus track].
Playbill.com: Have you ever been approached or thought of putting together a jukebox musical of Genesis songs?
PC: I haven't and I won't, to be honest. I think these things are pretty much cheap shots. For me, I'm very interested in doing a new project. I even bought an apartment here. But a new thing. I think it's so predictable — you get one reality show, then they all come on at once. You get one jukebox show, then suddenly there's a dozen. I haven't seen 'em, but I just don't like the idea of it. I just think it's repackaging.
Playbill.com: Any ideas or thoughts about what a new musical project might be?
PC: Oh, it's too early for that. I'm barely breathing after this. [Laughs.] It may be with Disney. I don't think it will be one of the animated features. I think they've reached the end of the line with that after Little Mermaid. I love [Disney Theatrical's] Tom Schumacher, and the creative team there is an incredible team. I love them very much. And Rick Elice, who [wrote the book for] Jersey Boys, is a great friend of mine. I've come into contact with Susan Stroman, people like that, that I actually like as people. And, you know, you just sit around and someone comes up with an idea, but if you're not here, then you're overlooked, but I intend to be around.
Playbill.com: After Tarzan opens, what's next on your plate?
PC: I don't know. I'm gonna buy some furniture for my apartment. [Laughs.] Have a little bit of a break with my kids. I've got a young 16-month old and a five-year old, plus I have three older ones, so I have some catching up to do.