The second show of Bill Hanney's second season of North Shore Music Theatre is the World premiere of the new version of "Tarzan". The show is based on the popular 1999 Disney film and the classic story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, "Tarzan" features music and lyrics by Phil Collins and a book by David Henry Hwang. The North Shore production features the debut of a new-14 piece orchestration for the musical. This classic tale unfolds in the early 1900's as a shipwreck leaves an infant orphaned on the West African shore. The helpless baby is taken under the protection of a gorilla tribe and becomes part of their family. The helpless baby is adopted and raised by the mate of the leader of a tribe of gorillas who is grieving the loss of her baby. As he grows and matures, the boy yearns for acceptance from his ape father and to discover the reason for his uniqueness. When he eventually encounters his first human, Jane Porter, both of their worlds transform forever. Director Bill Castellino casts topnotch performers for these roles with athletic choreography by Josh Bergasse with the cast leaping and swinging from vines all over the place which is very impressive. This heartwarming show also teaches us to accept others even though their appearance is different from us. This high energy and exuberant show receives a well deserved and spontaneous standing ovation as its reward.
Bill makes the adventure scenes flow beautifully but he also makes the dramatic scenes standout, giving this script its needed strength. The second act is stronger dramatically than the first act. A fourteen piece orchestra conducted by Anne Shuttlesworth completes the fantastic atmosphere for the world premiere of this stellar presentation. She plays lead keyboards for the show. I will give a short synopsis of what happens. After the shipwreck Tarzan's parents are killed by a leopard and the gorilla leader's baby is stolen by the same leopard. His mate Kala adopts Tarzan but Kerchak refuses to accept him. Tarzan befriends a young gorilla named Terk. Years later when Tarzan is grown, Jane and her father arrive in Africa where Tarzan encounters humans for the first time. Brian Justin Crum stars as Tarzan. He is excellent as this larger than life character. Brian's powerful tenor voice is heard in "Son of Man" and in a duet with Jane called "Different" which closes act one. Their voices soar in "For The First Time" which is the best song in the show. He also shows great athletic prowess climbing all over the theatre, swinging on vines and is very impressive in this role. Lovely brunette, Andrea Goss is Jane Porter, has an impeccable British accent and a gorgeous soprano voice. She sings the duet "Different" with Brian, her first number is the exuberant "Waiting for this Moment" where she marvels at the wonders of the jungle. In Act 2 Jane tries to teach Tarzan about humans and human life in "Strangers Like Me" and the emotionally draining "For the First Time" when she realizes she is in love with Tarzan. Andrea also sings "Like No Man I've Ever Seen" with her father. She and Brian have excellent chemistry together and the crowd cheers when they finally get together at the close of the show.
Todd Allen Johnson as Kerchak, commands the stage in this authority figure role. He sings "Two Worlds" with his mate Kala, "No Other Way" when Tarzan breaks a rule of the tribe by hunting with his home made spear and a touching ballad with Kala called "Sure as Sun Turns to Moon" that demonstrates their love for each other Todd's most poignant moment comes after he is shot and lays dying, proclaims that Tarzan is his son which brings many tears to the audience's eyes. A wonderful tearjerking moment. I last reviewed Todd in "Jeykl and Hyde" at Theatre by The Sea back in 2002 where he played the title role. Robyn Payne as Kala has the most poignant songs in the show, "You'll Be in My Heart" when she finds Tarzan as a baby and "Everything That I Am" with Tarzan when she reveals where he came from. Her songs sound like "Lion King" songs. Robyn is fabulous in this emotional role and wins thunderous applause at her talented portrayal. Christopher Messina is the biggest scene stealer as Terk. This is his first major role in a professional musical. His energetic and mischievous character shines in this show as he bounds about the stage dancing up a storm and swinging on the vines. He also has a terrific tenor voice and sings "Son of Man" and "Who Better Than Me" with Brian. Christopher is a hoot during the funny "Trashing the Camp" with the chorus doing an energetic dance during it. His relationship with Tarzan are standout moments in the show at their warm camaraderie . Eric Collins is Clayton, who is the Porter's guide and is the villain of the show. He wants to kill Tarzan and capture the apes but ends up killing Kerchak and is thrown into the brig. Jay Russell as Professor Porter who is torn when his daughter falls in love with this apeman and wants to remain in Africa with him but realizes she needs to do this to be happy and fulfilled. He is reminiscent of Rex Harrison in his songs and line delivery. Jay's role is a comical character who turns serious later in the show as he realizes family is important no matter where you come from. Young Tarzan is played wonderfully by 12 year old Giacomo Favazza who sings "I Need to Know" his solo to Robyn to find out why Kerchak is upset with him. This young boy steals the hearts of the audience during the first part of the show. Kudos to the hard working chorus who dance and climb over every inch of the set. So for a world premiere of a splendid new musical, be sure to catch this show at NSMT before Tarzan flies out of Beverly.