JUMBO: the SPIDER-MAN of 1935

JUMBO Poster

A Poster for JUMBO

I just read a rather interesting article by Michael Sommers of the New Jersey Newsroom comparing the follies of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s Jumbo with those of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, the show that has caused such a great stir because of its extended preview period, with opening night having been shifted several times, injuries suffered by some of the actors in the production and threats from critics (some of whom have “taken action”) to review the show before opening night.

While the comparison is interesting, reading some of the facts and figures and anecdotes about Jumbo is even more so – and at least the critics of that time seemed to have something better to do than bemoan the postponement of the show’s opening. As it is described in the article, the show certainly was not short on spectacle:

Starring Jimmy Durante and featuring a score by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, Jumbo boasted Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra, a real elephant (plus 500 other animals) and a 100-member company of Broadway artistes and circus performers. The mammoth 4,500-seat Hippodrome, located at 43rd Street and Sixth Avenue, was rebuilt into a circus environment complete with a big top, grandstands, a revolving stage and aerial rigging plus sideshow arcades in the lobby.

If you’d like to read more, the full article is available here.

Jumbo was was adapted for film in 1962 with a plot that was altered from what had transpired on stage in the original production. I wonder if there is any viable way of reworking the apparently flimsy book and the concept for a contemporary audience. With animal circuses no longer considered en vogue, I suppose not – unless, perhaps, the score and book were placed within a framework that told the story of the making of the musical, which (according to the article) seems to be a very interesting one indeed.

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