It started with a series of unrelated emails and a phone call to Danton Burroughs and ended with my attendance at the European Premiere showing of the stage musical, Tarzan. The old cliché of being in the right place at the right time applied very favourable for me on this occasion. As I was talking with Danton, he asked if I could make my way over to Holland for the premiere. It was taking place the following week and I would have to speak with his contact at Disney, Dusty Bennett to arrange a ticket for the event. Rather than calling Dusty direct, I instead called Bill Hillman who I knew also to be going, for advice. It so happened that Bill had just received an email from Dusty asking to confirm the number of tickets he required and he kindly intervened on my behalf. By the next morning I received a message from Bill that a ticket had been set-aside for me and that I would be sat alongside Jim Sullos and his son, who were representing ERB Inc. at the event. Hastily arranged flight tickets and hotel bookings followed and I was on my way. I later discovered that this ticket had been reserved for Danton himself, but due to ill-health caused by a change in medication, he was unable to make the trip. I trust the report I gave him upon my return justified his belief in giving me his seat.
In the wake of the success of Tarzan the Musical currently being played on Broadway, the producers looked to expand their market into Europe. The venue they chose was the recently renovated Fortis Circus Theatre in Scheveningen just outside of Den Haag (the Hague) in the Netherlands. The theatre I have been informed is over a century old and had fallen on bad times and disrepair. With a great deal of money and care, its splendour had returned and its magnificence multiplied. The domed roof at one point was temporarily removed so that work could be done to the upper rafters of the stage. This allowed greater freedom for the choreographers of Tarzan and create more elaborate aerial displays from the cast than would otherwise be achieved.
Just as I arrived at the theatre, so did the coach painted in that distinctive green and emblazoned with Tarzan carrying the cast and crew. Although I did not recognize the cast members, the press certainly did as they quickly gathered around the door as everyone exited from the vehicle. I would like to say that Ron Link (Tarzan) and Chantal Janzen (Jane) were amongst them, but as I had no prior knowledge of what they looked like (particularly Ron Link without his Tarzan wig), I have no idea if they were there or not.
Ron Link had been a participant in a televised Dutch show to find someone suitable to play the role of Tarzan for this production. It came down to a finale of six contestants and the winner would be determined by a phone-in vote. Beating off his competitors, Ron would join Chantal Janzen, already a household name in Holland, for the new stage musical.
As I was taking photographs of the coach, Bill Hillman who had flown in from Canada just a few days before joined me. Together we headed back to the theatre to claim our tickets for the event. The organisers were still laying down the red carpet such that we could not actually enter the main foyer, but an official went back for us and came back with a silver coloured presentation box that included a CD and three tickets. The third ticket had been reserved for Ron de Laat, one of the Hollandís foremost authorities on Edgar Rice Burroughs and host of the website Holland meets ERB. Unfortunately Ron could not attend the event on opening night so his ticket was promised to Ron Linkís aunt and godmother, Lia Zwarties. My ticket was in the box reserved for Jim Sullos and I could only collect it when the theatre finally opened.
Joined a short time later by Billís wife Sue-On, we made our way along the red carpet that was lined with barriers to keep the throng of onlookers back. Cameras flashed and TV cameras rolled as we stepped into the theatre. My first point of call was the front desk where our tickets awaited us. The presentation box for Jim Sullos was there from which I extracted my ticket, but I looked on with envy at the box and cheekily asked if there was an extra. My cheek was rewarded as the lady reached beneath the desk and pulled one out for me. Another lady was handing out programmes that are written entirely in Dutch as one would expect, but it does include bios on the cast and production team. Upon the opposite side of the lobby, press passes and kits were being distributed (which I managed to obtain after the show) but there was also a huge display case with a variety of merchandise available. Some of these items were similar to those being sold at the Broadway venue, others however were new. Unfortunately I was informed that the store would not open until two days later when the show opened to the general public, by which time I would be back home in England.
Almost everyone had arrived and began to head towards several entrances into the auditorium. Bill and Sue-On had seats on one side of the theatre while mine was on the other. Since everything was written in Dutch, I had to show my ticket to an attendant for directions to my assigned seat. Imagine my surprise to find myself in just the fourth row and just a few seats off centre! The auditorium had almost filled when Jim Sullos and his son James turned up and we were finally able to introduce ourselves to one another. We did not have long to talk as the lights dimmed and the show began.
There was a dark blue sheer lace curtain over the front of the stage that had a map of Africa projected onto it. This was replaced by a clipper ship that gently moved as electrical fans made the curtain shimmer. The crack of thunder heralded a storm and the ship disappeared from view. From the ceiling behind the curtain, two adults, a male and female were slowly tumbling down as if drowning, the mother desperately holding onto her young child. They grab for a dangling rope and haul themselves back up to the surface. The curtain was raised to reveal a sandy coloured wall and at the top, two or three smaller curtains of differing shades of sea green moved gently up and down as if waves were lapping onto a beach. What was being presented here was that the audience were given an aerial view of the beach that was ingenious because the three figures were now on the top left hand side of the wall apparently having just been washed ashore. The man, already suspended upside down from the rafters, stands up, reaches for his wife and child, and the three walk down the face of the wall to the jungle ahead of them. Little wonder the audience gave a wild, rapturous applause at this incredible concept being presented to them and this was only the beginning of the show!
Ropes descended from the ceiling and the apes began to appear from above, below and from the sides. The entire production is spoken and sung in Dutch of which I cannot speak nor understand a word, but rather than being an obstacle to my enjoying the event, it enhanced it. The majority of the Dutch vocabulary comes from the throat such that it added to the belief the apes were talking with guttural tones. Fortunately the show follows the original animated version very closely but has been elaborated upon in certain areas as new songs have been added by the hand of Phil Collins. Young Tarzan, played by Wisselende Bezetting, makes his appearance shortly after his parentsí death and for one so young, gives a first class performance. Jeroen Phaff (Kerchak), Chaira Borderslee (Kala) and Clayton Peroti (Terk) play out their roles to perfection. These were not people we were watching on stage, but apes in the jungle that have issues just as we do and is very moving to behold.
Jane makes her first appearance by walking down the auditorium aisle. This is a marked difference from the Broadway production where she enters directly onto the stage. Heads turned as we became aware of her entrance, making notes in her book of her surroundings. From up above, Tarzan looks down at this new arrival to the jungle with keen interest and how different she is to anything he has seen before. It is the first time he has ever seen another human, and a girl at that.
Another difference in this production, only this time from the film is Tarzanís awareness of the difference between himself and Jane. In the film he picks up the hem of her dress, on stage he lightly brushes her breast with his hand. The result is the same in both versions.
There is a beautiful choreographed sequence as Tarzan takes Jane and shows off his world to her. Colourfully costumed insects float majestically nearby as they explore the upper reaches of the trees, bathed in the light of a full moon.
The final major difference this production takes is Tarzanís fight with Clayton. In the film, Clayton falls from the trees and the surrounding vines catch him around the neck and he is accidentally strangled. This time however his foul deeds get him arrested by the ships crew and he is led away, handcuffed.
The finale has the entire cast on stage taking their bow to a well-deserved standing ovation. Bouquets of flowers were given to each of the major characters and the production team including Phil Collins joined them on stage as the applause continued.
Food and drinks awaited everyone as the auditorium emptied. There was an amazing buzz that could be sensed all around and though everyone was speaking in Dutch, we all knew we had just witnessed a unique and enthralling production. It took a while to find Bill and Sue-On amongst the partygoers and when we did, we were finally able to share thoughts and opinions of the event. About an hour or so later, people began to rush towards the centre where the cast were making their appearance in full evening dress. Swamped by the media as cameras flashed away, there was little chance of getting near them. Interviews with the principal players were held in various locations and no sooner were they finished with one, they were led away for another.
I had lost sight of Bill and Sue-On as the media circus continued throughout the night. I eventually made my way towards the exit, stopping one last time to gaze upon the merchandise available. I asked if any of it was available on-line only to be told they were now open. Laden down with my new acquisitions, I left the theatre to take in the fresh night air having just enjoyed the wonderful experience of a visually stunning spectacle. Several years ago, I had visited Disneyland in Paris, France and their production of Tarzan Encounter (see BB #45). My comment at the time was that I hoped it would eventually expand into a full stage show. That hope has now been fulfilled.
I arrived home around midday and then had to wait agonisingly for several hours before I could call Danton due to the eight hour time difference. Typically, his secretary was cautious when I asked to speak with him but when I told her that I wished to give him a report of the Premiere, she put me straight through. My impressions were all positive and told him that if his grandfather were alive today, he would have been proud of this latest incarnation of his most famous creation, Tarzan.
WEBJED: BILL HILLMAN
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