Tarzan: The Broadway Musical is reportedly one of the most expensive
shows ever mounted on Broadway: The
New York Times reports: "Teching the show - the bringing together of
the show's lights, sets, costumes, props, hair and makeup for the first
time - had taken twice as long as it does for most Broadway musicals. That
meant nearly a month in a darkened theater amid millions of dollars of
equipment and highly paid brainpower, all for what is one of the most expensive
shows ever mounted on Broadway, with a budget rumored to be between $15
million and $20 million."
The project has spanned five years from its conception to its scheduled
opening on May 10.
The production is currently running about three hours -- from 8 to past
11 pm with a 25 minute intermission, but there are plans to trim up to
half an hour out of that. . . mostly dialogue.
The audience starts lining up around 7 pm and the queue extends west down
to "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels" and east to the Marriott and then south halfway
to 45th St.
So far every show has played to a packed house (capacity 1,368 seats) with
people being turned away after waiting for several hours on the cancellation
Much of the audience is made up of families and school groups.
Previews of "Tarzan" have been completely sold out with rush ticket buyers
queuing at the box office before 3 pm each day.
Reportedly, Tarzan is one of the few Broadway shows to open in the black
-- thanks to overwhelming advance ticket sales.
There is a reported advance of nearly $20 million, or about as much as
the show is estimated to have cost.
A hit musical can gross around $1 million a week on Broadway, which can
be multiplied many times if it tours and spawns other productions around
A highlight of the production is the abundant aerial dynamics - lots of
bungee cord jumping, climbing, swinging, flying - all of which is inventive
and is very exciting and fun to watch.
Last summer the whole operation, under the direction of Argentinean director,
Baldinu, attended a five-week "aerial lab" on the campus of the State
University of New York at Purchase, complete with a half-dozen actors/acrobats.
Several actors - in helmets and harnesses - spent many hours hanging
and swinging from thin nylon cords above the stage.
Taking their seats at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, viewers will see spread
across the show's curtain a long green vine attached to a caribiner-style
metal clip at its end.
The stage director is Bob Crowley, an acclaimed Irish production
designer ("Mary Poppins," "Aida," "Carousel"), who is also in charge of
the show's sets and costumes. We want to present the clip right away, because
that's the way people fly," explains Crowley. "They're not really flying,"
he adds. "Characters obviously attach themselves to the vines. They clip
on and off."
Crowley's concept puts the focus on Tarzan finding himself. Set in a green
box strung with vines, the actors take on the look of rock-climbers or
bungee-jumpers, leaping from vine-covered nooks, sometimes flying over
the audience and finding the nook again.
Buckled beneath their costumes are specially-designed types of nylon harnesses
which afford the performers an amazing flexibility of motion. "The way
it's built, we can take off or come in from anywhere," says Stefan Raulston,
a member of the ensemble. "There's nothing fun-ner than being in the air."
Performing animal-like movement plus constant rappelling on elastic lines
has caused actors to develop extra muscle on their thighs and upper bodies.
"You can see how much people's bodies have changed since we started," says
Yoga and body-strengthening exercises have been part of 90-minute warm-ups
before rehearsals. A full-time physical therapist is employed.
Inspired by a two-minute sequence from Disney's 1999 animated film as Tarzan
crests across waves of jungle greenery, the look of the musical's mid-air
movement generally suggests surfing. The process "actually is closer to
rock-climbing," says producer Thomas Schumacher.
Crowley's solution to integrating such a large number of "flying" actors
into the production is to use a bright green inflatable set, similar to
a giant air castle. Holes are fashioned to allow actors to enter and exit
it, with a texture like a tough plastic balloon to protect them. "There's
no scaffolding or walls behind it, and it's soft," he says of the set.
"It's real research-and-development stuff." But some of those holes must
also be filled with lighting and sound equipment so actors must be very
specific about where they're going or they will end up inside of a speaker
or lighting panel.
The set has to be constantly re-inflated as the show progresses, adding
yet more equipment to the mix -- making a complex jungle of the Rodgers
backstage area -- an area already cramped with props, electrical cable
and other stage equipment.
Intense shades of green are colored both by lighting effects and drops
of jungle foliage that travel upstage and down. Hidden in the rafters along
with the overhead electrics and scenic gridwork, is a movable gantry system.
This unit tracks along, containing the machinery and rigging that suspends
the performers as they swing from their lines.
Fortunately, all these technical and acrobatic effects don't overshadow
the story or the characters.
Obviously a tremendous amount of training and rehearsal has gone into the
flying routines. There are frequently many people on stage in mid-air at
the same time and they all appear quite natural and comfortable in this
Adapting Baldinu's complicated and potentially dangerous acrobatics so
that they will work safely in the 81-year-old Rodgers theatre has required
the show's technical team to install a jungle of winches, motors, steel
wire and supports, all monitored by a technician, who sits in the balcony,
and by the show's stage manager.
The flying on ropes extends out over the first few rows of the orchestra
and on two occasions actors fly from the upper balcony all the way to the
stage. First, the entrance of adult Tarzan, then later, a butterfly that
dances in the air during a slow and beautiful descent to the stage.
Some of the other special effects and aerial scenes include:
Tarzan's parents' escape from the shipwreck at the very start of the show
Tarzan's parents' "gravity-defying" arrival on shore
Their dramatic deaths from the leopard
Gorilla aerial acrobatics during the introductory scene
Terk's introductory scene
The shadow puppets sequence during the "Son of Man" number
Adult Tarzan's dramatic entrance into the show
Jane's entrapment in the giant spider web
Tarzan's rescue of Jane
Tarzan's and Jane's Act II exit
Unfortunately, some of the aerial production in the first act in which
characters swing out over the audience and perform above the stage cannot
be seen by audience members seated in some of the orchestra section below
the balcony. Tickets for that section are stamped with a disclaimer: "Obstructed
View." The warning posted at TicketMaster states: "Partial view seats are
located in the rear of the orchestra ... A section of the theatre above
the stage cannot be seen because of the mezzanine overhang."
There are 24 rows in the orchestra and only the last four are really affected
and this involves no more than a few minutes of action. There are over
500 seats in the mezzanine that are fantastic for the show.
For a full unobstructed view of the production the mezzanine might be the
best place to sit for this show.
Tickets for these preview performances are at discounted prices.
Tom Schumacher, Director of Disney Theatricals, made a point of
welcoming the audience to the first preview performance: "A lot of
you are that curious breed," he said. "Freaks of the first preview, welcome."
Schumacher advised them that since this is a preview there may be possible
hitches and periodic stops to the show -- and that the crew might need
to come out on stage should any such technical problems arise. So far,
however, everything has appears to have gone smoothly.
Schumacher said, "The creative team for Tarzan has re-imagined, and in
some cases, reinvented characters from the original Edgar Rice Burroughs
novel, and Disney's animated film. We hope to bring a fresh perspective
to the Tarzan legend, and we think that we have found a wonderful cast
to make these roles their own."
"The design team has created a universe on stage, a flexible environment
in which the show is staged both on the ground and above the ground. .
. . Everybody wears a visible harness. There are visible ropes all over
the stage, both for gorillas and for Tarzan — and you will see them literally
clip in and harness up. It's part of the language of the piece. . . . we
went to Argentina to see what it looks like if people are wearing harnesses
and they're totally visible, and decided we liked that."
There have been a few reports that some of the dialogue needs editing as
some parts drag a bit and slow down the pace of the production.
Henry Hwang is currently playing doctor on the production. Armed
with a notebook, Mr. Hwang occupies different seats at different performances
to check out the characters — and to gauge audience reaction. "I have to
say, I wasn't all that familiar with the Tarzan legend at that time," David
tells us. "In fact, there are so many different versions of the tale (movies,
TV shows, comic books), that I eventually came to realize that I didn't
know the real story at all. So I read the original novel by Edgar Rice
Burroughs, and looked again at the Disney movie, which I'd always loved.
I discovered a tale of a man caught between two worlds, who has to find
his true identity before he can move forward. This was a story that excited
me, so I agreed to join the team. So began our 4 1/2 year journey to opening
night!" . . . "My favorite thing about 'Tarzan' is that it combines lavish
spectacle with a deeply personal and intimate story, which I believe gives
audiences the best of both worlds," David says. And it's a story that he
finds deeply moving. "One of the reasons stories endure is that they contain
elements which people of many different backgrounds can appreciate, each
from their own point of view. As a Chinese American, I particularly related
to a man caught between two worlds (in Tarzan's case, between human and
ape families), taking elements from each to become his best self." Disney
Other members of the core "creative" team are scattered throughout the
theatre, each monitoring his or her specialty.
The show is visually stunning with a superb cast of 34 actors.
Since the show is in preview the show is dark on some weekdays for fine-tuning.
Although the dialogue could use tightening it the audience generally has
been impressed by its many meaningful and sentimental moments.
Phil Collins, before his many years performing with Genesis, Eric
Clapton and Led Zeppelin, began his performing career as the Artful Dodger
in the original London production of Oliver! (Barry Humphries [Dame Edna]
40 years later, Collins now a youthful 55, is making his Broadway debut
as the composer of Disney's lavish new musical, Tarzan. For this latest
phase in his prolific career, he's added nine new songs to the five he
wrote for the 1999 animated film (including the Oscar-winning "You'll Be
In My Heart").
Collins is fully committed to the Disney Tarzan project, having lived with
it since 1995 when preparations started . He's also resigned to the harsh
reviews that seem to be the norm from Broadway critics: "I get kicked around
by critics all the time. I can count on one hand the amount of really good
reviews I've had for anything I've done throughout my career. . . . I'm
prepared for anything."
Collins has indicated that his five children (aged 2-33 years) are looking
forward to attending opening night.
Three of the major songs in the production were eleventh hour compositions
he wrote since starting to work in New York: The song for Tarzan's best
friend, Terk, "Who Better Than Me" and two songs for Tarzan's ape father,
Kerchak, "Sure as Sun Turns to Moon" and "No Other Way." These additional
songs have expanded Kerchak's part beyond what it was in the movie -- in
fact, all of the characters have been expanded to become "real people."
Other song titles include: "You'll Be in My Heart" "Two Worlds," "Jungle
Funk," "I Need to Know," "Son of Man," "Sure As Sun Turns to Moon," "Waiting
for This Moment," "Different," "Trashin' the Camp," "Like No Man I've Ever
Seen," "Strangers Like Me," "For the First Time" and "Everything That I
The drum-heavy "Jungle Funk" instrumental, where young Tarzan is watching
and learning the apes, sounds a lot like "something you'd find on a Phil
Collins record," the composer says.
Collins has sat in the mid-orchestra section for most of the performances
-- to the delight of his many fans in the audience. "I've spent three
or four years on this," said Collins of the show. "And I intend to stay
with them to the death."
Collins has even played percussion on the cast album.
Collins will be heard on a bonus track on the CD singing the Tarzan tune
"Everything That I Am." "At one point," Collins said, "I thought I'd record
all the songs on a record, but, of course, that takes a bit of steam away
from the cast album. So, for the cast album we did last week, I ended up
The show opens with impressive visuals, but the two opening songs -- "Two
Worlds" and one other -- are sung (prerecorded?) off-stage.
Many of the songs throughout the production are accompanied by an off-stage
The cast vocals are marvellous, especially considering that many of the
songs are done while swinging about on harnesses above the stage.
The opening sequence is a spectacular piece of stagecraft. The first
image - an elegant blue map of Africa - is projected on the stage, and
a elaborate soundscape (seagulls, waves, a groaning ship) fill the theater.
And then, with a clap of thunder and a flash of artificial lightning, the
hall goes dark and the first act begins. It involves some great lighting
effects with a scrim, a simulated drowning, and a terrific stage-clearing
It's a great opening effect -- a sinking boat with people lifted into the
air in such a way as to make it look like they are submerged in water,
struggling to get to the surface.
The survivors are then attached to the upper back stage wall to make it
look like they have drifted up onto the beach.
Act I also features an impressive waterfall effect.
The ape costumes are fabulous, covering much of the actors' bodies with
long brown hair.
The various small animal, insect and flower costumes are very colorful
There is an on-stage transition from baby Tarzan to young Tarzan -- mostly
done with lighting effects.
Young Tarzan is played by two fine actors: Daniel Manche and Alex
Rutherford, who play the role on alternate nights.
They spend much of their time on all fours, scampering ape-like and doing
flips and ground pounding.
Accompanying part of the young Tarzan appearances is a "Son of Man" video
sequence where a movie-like screen is used to project a delightful scene.
Shuler Hensley (Kerchak) and the other "ape actors" are in elaborate
and realistic ape makeup with lycra and human hair. Hensley's impressive
big First Act number is "No Other Way."
The Act Two opener – "Trashin’ the Camp" is a crowd pleaser that recreates
much of the action and many of the sound effects used in the film version.
The "Camp" scene is led by Chester Gregory (he previously played
Seaweed in Hairspray) who does an upbeat, rhythmic song called "Who
Better Than Me."
Gregory along with Hensley and Merle Dandridge are the only cast
members playing gorillas who have a real face and personality.
The gorilla dances and acrobatics are full of boundless energy -- jumping,
twirling, pounding the ground, and flying via ropes while making ape sounds
Tim Jerome plays Jane's father, Professor Porter, as a somewhat
distracted and stereotypical English bumbling old man -- he even has a
piano playing scene.
Donnie Keshawarz plays Clayton with an American southern accent
rather than as an English gentleman as played in the Diesney film version.
Jenn Gambatese's performance
as Jane is impressive, especially considering the acrobatics she must go
Jane first appears in long tropical garden sequence in a beautifully choreographed
dance amid flora and fauna, with insects, spiders, creepy-crawlies, etc.
hanging and dancing and spinning from ropes at various heights above the
Her singing, especially in "Waiting for this Moment," is crystal clear
and she speaks with a refined English accent.
She is very lovely and wears many pretty costumes although some of the
audience find the dresses unflattering.
The adult Tarzan (Josh Strickland) makes his first appearance by flying
in from the back of the mezzanine.
The extremely fit Strickland (a Charleston, South Carolina native of American
Idol and Star Search fame) plays most of his performance in
a loin cloth, which the ladies in the audience especially find most appealing.
Strickland's acting and singing are top notch.
A song highlight of the second act is "Like No Man I've Ever Seen" sung
by Jenn Gambatese.
One of the most impressive new songs is "For the First Time" which showcases
the glorious singing of the two leads.
The Tarzan scenes, where he learns about language and gets acquainted with
Jane, are touching, warm and funny.
Also very touching is the scene where Jane’s dad (Tim Jerome) meets Tarzan’s
ape mom (Merle Dandridge).
Merle Dandridge, as Kala, has just the right maternal presence -- enhanced
by her rich and warm voice.
There are bursts of spontaneous applause all through the show. . . culminating
each night with a standing ovation.
The basic ingredients are already present in the show in its preview form
-- the scenic wizardry is especially impressive. As it evolves with revisions
it will no doubt gain more heart and maturity, which will develop an emotional
connection with the audience.
Crowley hopes viewers will drop disbeliefs and go with the flow of sheer
theatricality. "Pure spectacle," he terms the production. "The audience
is never given anything realistic. There's a whole jungle on stage, but
there isn't a real leaf. A beach on stage, but there isn't a bit of sand.
A waterfall and there's no water. Crowley believes that all that illusion
-- plus everybody soaring through the air in time to music causes a child-like
reaction in people. "I hope that 'Tarzan' brings out that 'play' thing
that we un-learned as adults."
"The audience makes this thing come alive," says Collins. "You can rehearse
and rehearse it and you know what is supposed to be funny. There are still
a couple of things I laugh at every night that I'm the only one — nevertheless,
I'm sure they'll catch up."
The buzz in the theatre's outdoor terrace bar, where guests gather during
intermission, has been enthusiastic.
Since we're among the guests invited by Disney for opening night, May 10,
we will have much more to report upon our return to Canada.
of the Tarzan Cast
See news releases on the show from over the last half year at ERBzine
The Tarzan cast recording will be released on June 27 on Walt Disney Records.
The recording is currently available for pre-order at the Richard Rodgers
Theatre or on-line at www.tarzanonbroadway.com
Danton Burroughs, the grandson of Edgar Rice Burroughs, who flew
in from Tarzana, California for the previews, is very impressed with the
show: "I was just bowled over by it; I loved it. My granfather's creation
-- the Tarzan 'Legend' -- carries on in so many different forms, generation