note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
Entering the Disney, family-oriented musical production of “Tarzan,” making its world premiere in-the-round at the North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT) in Beverly, is like stepping into an exotic jungle. Safari-garbed ushers lead theatergoers through scenic designer Timothy R. Mackabee’s maze of vines, large suspended nets, and ropes. Jungle birds chirp and tweet, while an occasional elephant blares, and monkeys twitter, (thanks to set designer Timothy R. Mackabee and sound designers James McCartney and Josh Staines). The air hangs heavy with excitement, laden with anticipated surprises.
Before the show’s opening, Broadway-TV performer Brian Justin Crum, who’s charismatic as adult Tarzan, told me his adrenaline was sky-high. He loves the show, the music, and the opportunity to present Phil Collins and David Henry Hwang’s daring musical. “In the round, it’s going to be so exciting, incredible, becoming an entire environment, where the audience is going to have monkeys swinging above them. It‘s cool, what they have planned,” he said. “Tarzan is going to shock them. It’s a whirlwind of beautiful sets and technical aspects, a wonderful score, with very talented actors. The costumes are marvelous. It’s a show everyone will love.
“I’ve never played a role like Tarzan, a man who’s an animal. I’m getting into it- changing my body and voice and making monkey sounds. I’m having so much fun,” he said, adding his 5-foot-10-inch, athletic frame is suited to Tarzan.
“Tarzan” emphasizes the importance of family, and love, he said. “Families are gonna love it. Kids will love the spectacle of ‘Tarzan’ and not realize they’re getting a message about families - not necessarily just who gave birth to you.... The older crowd will love the music and the story. It’s a show for all audiences. It’s very Disney.”
He’s mostly right. Last week, the packed, multi-generational audience sat rapt, watching Crum swing from rope vines, swagger barrel-chested, and scamper apelike on all fours, amid humanoid simians, aping Joshua Bergasse’s choreography. However, Charles Schoonmaker’s animal costumes are unconvincing and confusing. From the opening scene, two mothers - a human and a gorilla - tenderly show their love for their newborn babies in song “Two Worlds,” while the fathers exude pride. When Gorilla Kala’s baby is snatched away by a swift-attacking hungry leopard, (Gregory Haney), she mourns, until she hears another baby’s cries. A shipwrecked couple are also killed by the leopard, leaving their baby son orphaned. As Kala cuddles this strange baby amid her husband Kerchek’s protests, she sings, “You’ll be in my Heart” to the child. Robyn Payne’s rich alto resonates in every song, as does Todd Alan Johnson’s powerful baritone as Kerchak, leader of the apes. Music Director Anne Shuttlesworth and the 13-member NSMT Orchestra melodically enrich the 2-3/4-hour play.
As a child, Tarzan (marvelously portrayed by Gloucester’s Giacomo Favazza) is bullied by his peer gorilla playmates, because he’s different. His sole playful friend, Terk (Christopher Messina), provides levity, saying he’s Tarzan’s protection. Nevertheless, little Tarzan laments during his solo, “I Need to Know”.
Fearful of humans who had killed members of his family earlier, Kerchak banishes Tarzan from the tribe, but Kala refuses to abandon her son and follows Tarzan, whose world changes when he saves a beautiful human girl named Jane (Andrea Goss) from a huge snake. Their worlds collide, as they share several sweet scenes and songs during Tarzan’s self-discovery and their growing romance.
Crum said he identifies with Tarzan, especially at the end of Act II, when Tarzan struggles with his two worlds,animal and human - the jungle, where he grew up, his love for Jane, and the civilized world. When evil hunter-guide Mr. Clayton (Eric Collins) reveals his ugly plan to capture and kill the gorillas and Tarzan, the couple decides where they belong - together.
Like Crum said, NSMT’s revised production of “Tarzan” is enchanting summer family fare, with underlying life lessons for children and stunning special effects.
BOX INFO: Two-act Disney musical production, directed by Bill Castellino, appearing through July 24 at the North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT), 62 Dunham Road, Beverly. Performances are Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; matinees, Wednesday, Saturday Sunday, 2 p.m. Tickets, $35-$65; children 12-under, save 50 percent all evening performances. Call 978-232-7200 or visit www.nsmt.org