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A One-on-One with the Legendary Phil Collins

He has sold more than 70 million solo albums and is best known as a drummer, songwriter and performer. Oscar-winning songwriter and seven-time Grammy Award winner Phil Collins can now add Broadway composer to his credits. He has written the music and lyrics, and has even expanded his songs for Disney's film into a complete theatre score. The score for Tarzan, the Broadway Musical, includes five songs he wrote for the 1999 animated Walt Disney Pictures film, "Tarzan," with an additional nine new songs which Collins wrote especially for the Broadway musical.

During his teenage years, Collins performed on television and in theatre, debuting on stage at the early age of 14. His big break came in 1970, when he answered an ad in a magazine for a drummer. This turned out to be for the group Genesis. Collins got the gig and joined as a drummer. When fellow band-member Peter Gabriel left the group in 1975, Collins took over as lead vocalist. Years later, he launched his solo career and was eventually approached by Disney to work on the film, "Tarzan."

Right before the show opened on May 10th, I had the honor to sit down with the legendary Phil Collins to speak about his involvement with Tarzan, the Broadway Musical, his career, and Genesis.

Nick Orlando: Phil Collins, congratulations, you are making your Broadway composing debut with Tarzan.

Phil Collins: I know. The more I hear it, the stranger it sounds. Broadway Composer; I am only a drummer, really. It just seems that suddenly, I've gone from being a drummer in the back of a band to a Broadway Composer. It's a very bizarre story.

Nick Orlando: How does writing songs for a musical differ from writing songs for an album?

Phil Collins: Well, for my album, I can do anything I want. If you're writing for a musical or a movie, you are part of a team. You are serving the project you are on.

Nick Orlando: You have attended auditions and many rehearsals, what is your opinion about the cast? Does anybody stand out?

Phil Collins: To be honest, everybody stands out. Everybody is finding their feet at different times. Schuler Hensley, for example, is very, very, very experienced and very powerful. So is Merle [Dandridge]. Chester Gregory has found himself in the last two or three weeks. He owns the stage when he comes on. Josh [Strickland] and Jenn [Gambatese] are just magical together. You cannot get enough of them together. They really care about each other. Vocally, the whole cast is fantastic and that makes me smile because obviously even if it's a great song, when someone else takes it and sings it, it doesn't necessarily mean that it will still sound like a great song. It's a very strong cast and it's very exciting. I go every night to watch the show and I am still seeing things come together.

Nick Orlando: You composed the music for the movie and now you are doing the theatrical version.  What is it about this storyline that you decided to get involved?

Phil Collins: Well, originally with the movie, it was just them asking me if I would be interested in doing a Disney project. My sister was an ice skater, my brother was a cartoonist. My house was always full of Disney because my brother was a big fan of the animators and my sister danced to Disney on Ice every year and on tour. We even had Dopey living with us for a little while! Yeah, we had Kenny Baker who was skating as Dopey. He was living with us for a few months. The music was always in my head. So, when I was asked if I would like to write music for one of these films that was going to be part of my musical life, it was like being asked to become a member of a club that you thought you would never become a member of. I jumped at the chance. We discussed the idea of a musical version of it. It just seemed my personality was involved in the whole project. I would have been very surprised if they had thought about asking anyone else and I certainly would have never said no. I think it was always given that I would be doing it.

Nick Orlando: Did you ever consider performing on Broadway?

Phil Collins: I think it may have come up, but not been taken seriously. I probably would take it more seriously now. This whole world seems to be very inviting at the moment. I bought an apartment here [in New York] for a variety of reasons. One is because I have older children living on this side of the world and the other is I would love to be invited to write another musical and collaborate with any one of the talented people I have met since doing this.

Nick Orlando: Which one of your songs hold a special meaning in your heart?

Phil Collins: I hate to put down one. For me, there is a song which I guarantee 99.9% of the people out there would not have heard of. It's called "I've Forgotten Everything," which is kind of my version of "I Get Along Without You Very Well," the Hoagy Carmichael song. It's a song that I wrote in an hour and a half, recorded in that same hour and a half. I did it at home. It's on an album of mine called Both Sides. That would be one of my favorite songs because of what it means to me. In terms of songs people have heard, I think "Take Me Home" has always been a song of mine I have enjoyed singing every night when we come to it.

Nick Orlando: Who is the closest friend you have made in theatre?

Phil Collins: I would say Tom Schumacher because he has such a great brain! A great mind. A very smart guy.

Nick Orlando: You started in this business as an actor and model. What was your first gig? How did your interest in music come about?

Phil Collins: You can downplay the model part! Way back when I was five or six, or maybe 10 or 11, I don't remember how long ago it was, these were shopping catalogs. It was so embarrassing. You stand there looking like a nerd for a half hour while they took your picture! I have been playing drums since I was five and that was really all I ever wanted to do, but way back in '56 or '57, you couldn't do that. You couldn't be a professional musician until you went through school. Then you either got a real job or became a struggling musician, which is what I did. I became a professional auditioner! During that time, when I was 14, I was in Oliver! and then I went back into Oliver! when I was 17 or 18. In between, I did some television stuff. Really, all I wanted to do was get out of there and play drums in a band! Which is, of course, what I did eventually; when I was 19, I answered an ad and that was for Genesis.

Nick Orlando: Since Genesis' commercial success, how easy or hard was it to keep that momentum going?

Phil Collins: When I replaced Peter [Gabriel], we were just a cult still. People like to look back now and say the golden days when Peter Gabriel was in the band. They should have been there to watch us because we were still playing to handfuls of people. We were basically a small arena band by the time he left in '75 and then I took over. Our progress with an audience had grown steadily. When I joined in 1970, we were playing in pubs, then clubs and colleges/universities. Then we played town halls. Me singing didn't make much difference to our success. We just kept on getting more and more popular because we were getting better. The difficulty was when I started to do my own records in '78 or '79. I had two jobs - as a solo artist and staying with Genesis as the singer, which I did because they both fulfilled different needs for me. One was me doing my own thing and the other was being a part of a team, which is probably why I am pretty good at being a team member now.

Nick Orlando: Will there ever be a reunion of Genesis?

Phil Collins: Yea, we all got together to talk about this last November; all five of us with Peter [Gabriel] and Steve [Hackett]. This is something we may do in a couple of years. It is very, very loose. There is certainly nothing planned. If that didn't come together because of various people's schedules, then maybe the three of us, me, Tony [Banks] and Mike [Rutherford] might do something. I would do it with the drop of a hat. I have been working non stop for a long, long time now. Right now, I need a break, but if you ask me in six months time…We actually got a little bit of time booked for the three of us just playing around, jamming together in October. There's nothing fixed though!

Nick Orlando: What is your opinion of "American Idol"?

Phil Collins: Well, last night some lady, [Katharine McPhee], sang "Against All Odds." I got mixed reports. I am not going to join the bandwagon. I don't like the fact that they go on and it becomes about the judges. I hate Simon Cowell with a vengeance. I think all three of them should take a hike! The concept has grown so quickly, that it has now burned itself out into this contest of abuse.

Nick Orlando: What's next for you?

Phil Collins: Buying furniture for my apartment! I am unfortunately going through a separation and I have to find somewhere to live in Switzerland, where I am near my boys and I am going to do that. That's my next priority. Also, buying furniture for the place I got here. I am going to enjoy this production and I am around if anyone wants me to try another one!

Tarzan, the Broadway Musical, is currently playing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre (226 West 46th Street). The production stars Josh Strickland and Jenn Gambatese as Tarzan and Jane. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at , with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at , and Sunday at . Tickets are available through www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 212-307-4747. For more information, please visit www.TarzanOnBroadway.com.

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