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How a fine-tuned "Tarzan" now wows theater fans in the Netherlands
Jim Hill talks about some of the tweaks and fixes that were made to the first international production of Disney Theatrical's newest musical. Which debuted at Holland's Circustheatre back on April 15th 

Broadway insiders were said to be stunned when they heard about these reviews:
"Visual effects truly out of this world ... A worthy successor to ' The Lion King' " -- Metro
"Spectacular aerial acrobatics, rocking pop songs and true passion are but a few of the ingredients of (this) dynamic musical" -- SP!TS
"Larger than its American predecessor ... A true jaw-dropper" -- NRC Handelsbad
"Pulling out all the stops to create a true spectacle" -- TROUW

Wait a minute. These were really-for-real critics saying nice things about "Tarzan" ? The musical that the New York Times called '... a writhing green blob with music' ? How is that possible ?

Well, first of all, this is the first international production of this new Disney musical that we're talking about here. More importantly, this is a version of the show that's been tweaked and plussed by both "Tarzan" 's original creative team as well as by theatrical producer and media tycoon Joop van den Ende.

Mind you, it was easy for Joop's staff to work together with Disney Theatrical on the fine-tuning of "Tarzan"'s first international production. After all, van den Ende's company, Stage Entertainment and the Mouse had been co-producing shows for more than a decade now. And between the two of them, they've mounted six Disney musicals and entertained tens of millions of people all over Europe.

Which was why -- long before the original Broadway production of "Tarzan" had actually begun previewing at the Richard Rodgers Theatre -- Disney Theatrical was inviting van den Ende's creative team to come over to the U.S. So that they could then get some sense of the sort of show that Bob Crowley and his co-horts were trying to put together.

So back in early 2006, Joop's troupe flew over to New York City and visited with the "Tarzan" cast as they rehearsed on Stage 2 at Steiner Studios in the old Brooklyn Navy Yard. Van den Ende's people watched as aerial designer Pichon Baldinu put the performers through their paces, swinging and dangling from harnesses while high above the soundstage floor.

Joop's creative team also reviewed many of the concepts that Disney Theatrical had originally considered for "Tarzan." And among these was staging this new musical inside of a vast open arena a la Cirque de Soleil. With the actors often performing directly over the heads of the audience.

Recognizing that the Circustheatre (I.E. The 1800-seat venue where Stage Entertainment would be presenting the European premiere of "Tarzan") would actually lend itself better to the original concept of the show, Joop's staff decided that their version of this new Disney musical would feature much more flying over the audience. More moments when the cast would swing straight out over the heads of those people seated in the front orchestra section. 

And seeing as Disney Theatrical had cast "American Idol" finalist Josh Strickland in the title role of their new musical, van den Ende's team decided to go Mickey one better by building an entire reality series around their search for the perfect Tarzan. That program, entitled "Wie Wordt Tarzan ?," debuted on Dutch television in the Fall of 2006, with over 800 performers initially auditioning for this part. Joop's staff was eventually able to winnow that talented group down to five finalists. Who then competed against one another to prove who was the very best performer when it came to acting, singing and dancing. (You can actually see an excerpt from this program -- where four of the finalists swap out playing a scene with this production's Jane, Chantal Janzen -- by clicking on this link.)

In the end, it was this show's viewers (Who voted via the Internet) who selected Ron Link to play the title role in the first international production of "Tarzan." FYI: Just like Josh Strickland, Link had once been a finalist on Holland's version of "American Idol."

Anyway ... Thanks to "Wie Wordt Tarzan ?," Dutch theater fans were now well aware of this new Disney musical months prior to its official premiere at Circustheatre. Which really helped boost advance ticket sales for "Tarzan" 's first international production.

Of course, by this time, the Broadway version of "Tarzan" had been open for several months. And Joop's creative team were well aware of all of the underwhelming reviews that Disney's newest musical had received stateside.

Now, this news might have discouraged a lesser group of showmen. But not Joop van den Ende's staff. Working directly with "Tarzan" 's original creative team (Who actually welcomed a chance to revisit the show), Joop's troupe identified many ways that this show could be improved and plussed. 

Chief among these was bringing Sergio Trujillo to redo much the show's choreography. Best known these days for that he recently did on the Broadway smash, "Jersey Boys," Sergio reworked many of the numbers that Australian contemporary ballet star Meryl Tankard had originally done for "Tarzan." 

Joop's group also insisted that -- in order to make the most of the Circustheatre's performance space -- that more Cirque de Soleil moments be folded into the show. Take -- for example -- how Jane makes her entrance in the Dutch production. Instead of just walking out on stage, Miss Porter now enters from the back of the hall and walks through the audience.

Mind you, what adds to the fun of this moment in the show is -- as Jane comes down the aisle -- Tarzan suddenly appears high above the floor of Circustheatre's auditorium. Literally hanging above the audience seated in the hall, the ape man then observes this beautiful creature as she carefully makes her way through the jungle.

Let me stress here that we're not talking about radical surgery here. This was refining, not retooling. Just a few nips and tucks. A re-choreographed scene here, a new lyric (Provided by Phil Collins himself, by the way) there. Now add in van den Ende's truly inspired promotion of the first international production of "Tarzan" coupled with the fact that this new Disney musical is now being staged inside a theater that actually lends itself to all of Pichon Baldinu's flying and bungee-ing ... And Disney Theatrical (And Stage Entertainment, of course) now has a hit musical on its hands. In Holland, anyway.

So the big question now becomes ... Will any of these changes be incorporated into the Broadway version of "Tarzan" ? Well, Disney Theatrical did make changes to the Broadway version of "The Lion King" after the London production of that show opened in 1999. Why For? Because Julie Taymor restaged some of the numbers for this Tony Award winning musical so that they'd then better fit the performance space at the Lyceum. And Taymor was so pleased with these changes that she had them folded into the Broadway version of "The Lion King."

Similarly, new bits of stage business that proved to be successful in the road companies of this Broadway smash eventually found their way into the original version of "The Lion King." So it's not like Disney Theatrical hasn't done something like this before.

The only problem is ... Given the physical set-up of the Richard Rodgers Theatre, it's going to be extremely hard to incorporate many of the changes that have been made for "Tarzan" 's first international production into the Broadway version of the show. But -- that said -- that still doesn't mean that the folks at Disney Theatrical won't fold these pluses and improvements into any future productions of their newest musical.

You know what's ironic about all this? Disney Theatrical fixed "Tarzan" the way that Broadway producers have been fixing troubled shows for more than a century now. By taking it on the road. Way, way, way on the road, admittedly. All the way to Holland. But -- in the end -- the critics agree. "Tarzan" is now a much better show for having made that journey.

Copyright © 2001 - 2007 All rights reserved.
Copyright 2007 Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and Disney Enterprises, Inc. 
All Rights Reserved. Tarzan ® Owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.

Disney's Tarzan Opens in Holland April 15
Playbill ~ April 15, 2007

The first European production of the new Disney musical Tarzan officially opens in Holland at the Circustheatre near Amsterdam April 15. 

Heading the cast of the Dutch-language production is 27-year-old Ron Link from Nijmegen in the title role with 27-year-old Chantal Janzen from Tegelen as Jane.

In a statement Disney Theatricals president and producer Thomas Schumacher said, "We are excited to see our first international production of Tarzan up on the stage in Holland. Our extraordinary partnership with Stage Entertainment has given Bob Crowley and I an opportunity in less than a year after opening on Broadway to revisit our show and create this new production for Joop van den Ende and his gifted team." The production is a collaboration between Disney Theatricals and Stage Entertainment.

Sergio Trujillo, who was nominated for a Drama Desk Award for his choreography for Jersey Boys, also worked on the European debut of Disney's Tarzan. In a statement released by Trujillo's personal press rep, he recently stated, "I am truly honored to be working with Disney. Tarzan is a wonderfully inventive show and I look forward to moving the characters and story in new and different ways."

Tarzan continues to play Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre. The musical features a score by Phil Collins. Tony Award winner David Henry Hwang wrote the musical's book based on both the Disney film and the original Edgar Rice Burroughs story "Tarzan of the Apes." Directed by Bob Crowley, the Broadway creative team also includes Meryl Tankard (choreography), Pichón Baldinu (aerial design), Natasha Katz (lighting design), John Shivers (sound design), Paul Bogaev (music producer/vocal arrangements) and Doug Besterman (orchestrations).

Copyright © 2002 Playbill, Inc. 

Tarzan the Musical in Holland

The European Premiere of
A Travel Memoir by 
Bill & Sue-On Hillman
Part I: The Journey | Pics 1 | Pics 2
Part II: The Premiere | Pics 1 | Pics 2
Part III: Long Journey Home | Pics 1 | Pics 2
Tarzan the Musical
Special Holland Reports
1. Pre-Production
2. Newspaper Review and
Official Press Photos
3. Souvenir Swag
4. Reviews

Tarzan the Musical On Broadway, NY
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