'Tarzan' an exotic jungle safari at NSMT
By Sally Applegate
Community Newspapers / Wicked Local
Posted Jul 15, 2011
North Shore Music Theatre’s world premiere production of a new version of “Tarzan”
the musical draws you into its jungle world from the first moment.
This beguiling Disney musical with Oscar and Grammy Award-winning music by Phil
Collins is playing now at the Beverly theater. The book by Tony Award winner
David Henry Hwang explores the meaning of family, whether human or great ape. It
takes a serious look at the deepest human emotions, setting its story to
Collins’ vibrant score.
This impressive world premiere is a new version of the Broadway show adapted
from the Disney film and the original Edgar Rice Burroughs story “Tarzan of the
There are some powerful performances here —from Tarzan as boy and man, to his
ape mother, father, and best friend — and Jane, the human woman drawn to Tarzan
as he seeks his real identity.
As the grown Tarzan, Brian Justin Crum is convincingly ape-like without taking
it over the top. The ape sounds he — and other cast members — make seem
realistic, not humorous. The ape posture of shoulders thrown back, legs bent,
and the side-to-side walk is flawless with Crum’s performance.
Crum’s singing voice is wonderful, his personification of the famous ape-man
touching and sincere. Like most of the rest of the cast, he is called upon to
perform remarkably acrobatic movements along “vines,” and these are spectacular
while appearing effortless.
As the young boy Tarzan, Giacomo Favazza is also touching and convincing, and
expertly handles the score with a remarkable voice.
Tarzan’s adopted ape mother Kala is played with power and great emotion by
Robyn Payne, who has a gorgeous voice for this role, in which she sings fine
Collins songs like “You’ll Be In My Heart.”
Tarzan’s reluctant ape father Kerchak is played with a combination of ferocity
and dignity by Todd Alan Johnson, his powerful baritone ringing through songs
like “No Other Way” as he abandons the child Tarzan in the jungle.
Tarzan’s best ape friend and self-appointed protector Terk is given a delicious
performance by Christopher Messina — whether ringing out song numbers in a
fantastic rock voice, or providing an acrobatically remarkable physical performance.
As one of the few humans in the story, Andrea Goss is beautiful and amusingly
talkative as Jane Porter, the young woman who will lead Tarzan to his human
side. Her scenes with Tarzan are beautifully done, as the two innocents slowly
discover new feelings. Her singing voice is just right for her characterization
of Jane, a combination of strength and sweetness.
The moody and atmospheric effects, done by the simplest of methods, range from
a convincingly stormy ocean created with a rippling stage cover and clever
lighting, to the fun silhouettes from inside a tent that start Act II. We see
the apes having a great time creating their own percussion instruments as they
take apart a human encampment they have found in their jungle.
As the show flows effortlessly along, it incorporates quiet personal moments of
discovery and the exploration of family. Thanks to the expert direction of Bill
Castellino and the innovative choreography of Joshua Bergasse, this is a show
that holds you and doesn’t let go.
The opening night audience called out in excitement after some of the more
impressive numbers in the show, and gave the cast a heartfelt standing ovation.
"‘Tarzan’ is enchanting family fun"
by Sheila Barth
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.
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.
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.”
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
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
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.
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.
Crum said, NSMT’s revised production of “Tarzan” is enchanting summer family
fare, with underlying life lessons for children and stunning special effects.
Bay State Banner
July 20, 2011
Large scale musicals are always a tricky proposition.
Take “Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark” at Broadway’s Foxwoods Theatre. Even with
major revision, the comic-book-based show needs more personalization and less
expensive effect (but more about that in a later column).
At least “Tarzan,” now in a new version at the North Shore Music Theatre with a
revised David Henry Hwang (“M Butterfly”) book, has enough emotional caring, romance
and environmental concern to give adults some satisfying moments while children
cheer the swinging of Tarzan (ape language for “white man”) and his simian
sidekick Terk. All theatergoers should enjoy the sensory stimulation of the
musical’s vivid light show. While the Phil Collins score generally lacks any
real distinction, there are substantial compensations in the sound design’s
evocation of the story’s rich repertoire of birds and animals.
Based on both the 1999 Disney film and the original Edgar Rice Burroughs story “Tarzan
of the Apes,” the musical version has actors playing a leopard and the gorillas
with whom Tarzan is raised and grows on the shores of West Africa. African
American actor Gregory Haney brings the right combination of majesty and
ferociousness to the role of Leopard. Designer Charles Schoonmaker’s
costumes for the actors playing the Mangani – “great apes” allow them to
move nimbly though their outfits are more stylized than fully accurate for
The basic story is here - the shipwreck of Tarzan’s family, the death of his
parents, his raising by she-ape Kala and an ongoing conflict with he-ape
partner Kerchak as Tarzan grows up and becomes a hunter clearly on his way to
becoming a leader in his own right.
Actress Robyn Payne brings striking feeling to Kala’s signature song “You’ll Be
in My Heart,” arguably the one truly hummable and memorable Collins song. Payne’s
warmth and inner strength as Tarzan’s simian mother do much to enhance the
overlong first act. The same goes for Christopher Messina’s exuberant geniality
as Terk and deep-voiced Todd Alan Johnson as Kerchak.
There are differences from the 1914 book. Here Tarzan meets Jane Porter - the
first white woman he sees - in Africa. He meets her in Wisconsin in the original
story. Tarzan ends up killing Kerchak in combat in the Burroughs work, while
his relative - identified as Mr. Clayton - kills the ape leader here.
Even the romantic aspect is different - as Jane decides to remain in Africa
with Tarzan. In the Burroughs story, Tarzan stays away from Jane - who has
become engaged to his cousin William Cecil Clayton - so that she can be married
to the man she loves.
Purists may quibble about these changes, but Hwang’s book does give the story a
commitment to gorillas and the natural world. Also persuasive here, Jane’s
father Professor Porter becomes a spokesman for nature conservation and the
peaceful co-existence of animals and humans.
Adult audience members may regard the text and subtext as somewhat simplistic,
but younger audience members are likely to embrace them along with Joshua
Bergasse’s lively choreography, which does give ample attention to the changing
moods of the gorillas as they come in contact with respectful humans like Jane
and her father and exploitive ones like Mr. Clayton.
Under veteran director Bill Castellino’s generally effective guidance, there
are other performances besides Payne’s, Johnson’s and Messina’s that command
attention in this unassuming production. Brian Justin Crum wisely avoids imitating
previous Tarzans and arrives at a portrayal that catches the character’s
vulnerability and trust as well as his tenacity. Andrea Goss sings sweetly as
Africa-enchanted Jane. Eric Collins seems fairly one-dimensional as Mr.
Collins, but the fault may lie with the part.
“Tarzan” may have improved considerably thanks to Hwang’s revising (this critic
did not get to see the Broadway original). Clearly an original score with
strong African musical strains or Afrobeat rhythms (think of “Fela”) would do a
lot more for the story and the musical than Collins’ un-extraordinary
Still, the earnest and energetic North Shore Music Theatre staging will at
least be in the heart of adventurous young theatergoers.
Tarzan, North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, through July 24. 978-232-7200 or
Reviewed by Tony Annicone
July 14, 2011
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 Brian 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 which 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.
Brian 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.
Premiere Tarzan Swings at NSMT
by R.J. Nickerson
NEW ENGLAND ENTERTAINMENT DIGEST
July 16, 2011
North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, MA thru 7/24
Bill Hanney's North Shore Music Theatre is presenting a World Premiere
production of the Disney musical, TARZAN. Written by Tony Award-winner
David Henry Hwang, who wrote the musical's book based on both the 1999 Disney
film and the original Edgar Rice Burroughs story "Tarzan of the
Apes," Hwang worked directly with NSMT to revise the Broadway
script. As most of us know, Tarzan tells the classic tale of a shipwreck that
leaves an infant boy orphaned on the shores of West Africa. 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.
Eventually he encounters his first human - Jane - and all of their worlds are
transformed. The cast of TARZAN is led by Broadway's Brian Justin Crum in
the title role. 100% invested in his role, Crum was outstanding in his
physicality, character and emotion. Innocent and naive one second, proud and
strong the next, this role calls for an actor to run the gamut, and Crum not
only ran it...he swung it. I have to note, a patron next to me commented,
"Oh, I wish he'd straighten up," to which I had to reply, "Would
you if you had been raised since birth by gorillas?" From start to
finish, Crum was... well, simply put - a primate. This was outdone only by his
flawless vocals. Also a standout was Christopher Messina as Tarzan's sidekick,
Terk. Ever so thankful to get the voice of Rosie O'Donnell out of my head, I
found Messina's Terk thoroughly enjoyable to watch. His energy was perpetually
high as he made his way about the stage, whether it be on all fours, tumbling,
or swinging from a vine...which he seemed quite adept at. I was very
surprised to read that this was Messina's first professional musical
production, but I will not be surprised to see many more in his future. A shout
out to all in "Trash the Camp," which was too short, but wonderful
still. Also worth noting, Robyn Payne (Kala), Todd Alan Johnson (Kerchak) and
Jay Russell (Professor Porter). The touching "Sure as the Sun Turns to
Moon" between Kala and Kerchak was playful and loving, and the Professor
was beautifully understated but ever present. A character unto itself was the
brand new 14-piece orchestration of the Oscar and Grammy Award-Winning music
written by Phil Collins, conducted by Anne Shuttlesworth. Sadly, there are too
few full company numbers, as those (specifically "Two Worlds" and
"Son of Man") were by far the strongest overall. As an ensemble, this
cast soared vocally. Enhancing the orchestra and cast were also added pit
singers, one of whom being Massachusetts-native Alex Newell, currently of
Oxygen's "The Glee Project" fame. I would prefer a CD of the NSMT
company vocals over the Broadway CD. Tarzan is directed by Bill Castellino, who
is making his NSMT directing debut. At times, I questioned choices made. For
example, section 7 was blocked by Terk on the hanging ladder during Kerchak's
final moments. Also, perpetual vines pretty much throughout were great for
keeping us in the jungle, but they were very under utilized. Lastly, having
some ensemble members in vague basic costumes (as the fruit hangers and later
the carnivorous plants) made them seem like "other random people in the
jungle". My son, a '9-year-old theater kid' asked why those men were
holding the fruit on that vine. He also did not recognize (nor did I) the
different between the gorillas and the panther. Again, commented from son,
"Why did that gorilla attack the family? That's not in the story."
Regardless, very much enjoyed were the use of screens and projections for
"I Need to Know," the scenes of Tarzan's original family treehouse,
and of special note - Kala and Terk's scene that actually took place in the
house - wish there could have been more of those to further include the
audience. Tickets for TARZAN are priced from $35 - $65. Kids 12 & under
save 50% at all evening performances (though I might warn parents of an under 6
attention factor). Performances run Tuesday thru Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and
Saturday at 8L00pm, matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2:00pm. For
tickets and information call (978) 232-7200, visit www.nsmt.org, or visit the
box office in person at 62 Dunham Road.