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'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 Apes.”

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"

Reviewed by Sheila Barth

Independent Newspapers

July 18, 2011

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.

Review: Tarzan
Jules Becker
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 animals.

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 repertoire.

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
Theater Mirror
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.


World Premiere Tarzan Swings at NSMT
by R.J. Nickerson
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, or visit the box office in person at 62 Dunham Road.


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