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A Friday Visit with Jim Korkis: The “Extinct” Shows of Theater in the Wild



By Dave Shute

Welcome back to Fridays with Jim Korkis! Jim, the dean of Disney historians, writes about Walt Disney World history every Friday on yourfirstvisit.net.

THE FORMER SHOWS OF THEATER IN THE WILD

By Jim Korkis

Imagineer Alex Wright said, “Theater in the Wild is not really part of the lands of Animal Kingdom. Even its name is intended to reflect the idea that it’s an entity unto itself. It offers a performance space that can be used for shows that might not fit very well into any of the established storylines.”

The 1,500 seat Theater in the Wild in the Dinoland USA area of Disney’s Animal Kingdom has featured three stage shows: Journey into the Jungle Book (1998-1999), Tarzan Rocks! (1999-2006), and Finding Nemo – The Musical (2007-Present).

Journey Into the Jungle Book was a roughly twenty-five minute show that condensed the story of Mowgli and his animal encounters in the jungles of India from Disney’s animated feature film The Jungle Book (1967), featuring the popular songs from the movie including Bare Necessities and I Wanna Be Like You.

It featured costumed characters, human performers and innovative puppetry. During cast previews, the masks for characters had not been finished so audiences could see the performers’ faces and loved it.

Later, when the show debuted and the masks had arrived, it seemed to lose its connection with the audience. Some of the costumes looked like bushes and trees that when positioned differently became animals.

Show Director Fran Soeder said, “I am best known as the man who brought puppetry to Walt Disney World. Over my decade in residence as a Show Director, I created The Legend of the Lion King, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Journey Into Jungle Book and The Voyage of The Little Mermaid.

“Most of our Puppeteers were untrained but in less than five years, I created one of the largest groups of professional puppeteers in the country. Over those years there were successful collaborations with puppet designer Chuck Fawcet (ANIMAX) as well as Structural Engineer, Michael Curry (Michael Curry Design) as well as a team of New York designers which included Scenic Designer James Leonard Joy and Lighting Designer Natasha Katz.”

After a year, Journey Into the Jungle Book was replaced with the high-energy half-hour Tarzan Rocks show directed by Reed Jones which didn’t retell the story of the animated feature, but rather was more of a rock concert experience revue that focused on the relationship between Tarzan and Jane.

The audience was told that it was the “Two Worlds Concert Tour”. The show was to help promote the release of the animated feature a few weeks earlier, and obviously the story of Tarzan’s jungle world was a good fit for Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

At one point, Imagineers pitched the idea of an inverted roller coaster that would have guests mimic swinging on vines like Tarzan through the jungle, but it was eventually determined to be cost prohibitive and take too long to build. In contrast, the live show could be put together quickly to leverage interest in the release of the film.

The show included gymnasts, singers, dancers, aerialists, roller-blading monkeys who went into the audience like in the play Starlight Express, in addition to a scene where Tarzan and Jane swirled on rope vines in an aerial ballet dance high above the stage like at Cirque de Soleil. During the run of the show there was a pin and a medallion coin available for sale.

The songs performed by a live band were all from the film and included You’ll Be in My Heart, Son of Man, Trashin’ the Camp (with Terk and a dancing back-up group), and Two Worlds.

The show ended when a musical show devoted to the animated feature film opened on Broadway in 2006 and the theater was slated for construction work so that it could be enclosed.

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Thanks, Jim! And come back next Friday for more from Jim Korkis!

In the meantime, check out his books, including his latest, Disney Never Lands, and about planned but unbuilt concepts, and Secret Stories of Walt Disney World: Things You Never You Never Knew, which reprints much material first written for this site, all published by Theme Park Press.

 

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