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Volume 2326
Ich Tarzan, Du Jane!
Tarzan the Musical in Hamburg
By Bill Hillman
Reprinted from the Burroughs Bulletin ~ No. 77
Editor: George T. McWhorter
Ekstrom Library - University of Louisville
2006! ~ 2007! ~ 2008!: It's becoming an annual event that is keeping Edgar Rice Burroughs' famous icon alive internationally -- almost a century after the apeman's first appearance in All-Story magazine.

We've had the great pleasure of being invited by Disney and ERB, Inc. to attend all three of the opening night celebrations of Tarzan the Musical: Broadway (2006), Scheveningen, Holland (2007) and Hamburg, Germany (2008). Extensive illustrated reports have been featured at our site.

The cast for the Hamburg Tarzan production was determined by a four-month-long television casting contest - "Ich Tarzan, Du Jane!" - which debuted in January 2008. Stage Entertainment, who hold the rights for Disney musicals in Europe, held a similar nation-wide contest in Holland last year for the Dutch version of Tarzan. The play has been a major success in The Netherlands where it is slated to run well into 2009.

Ich Tarzan, Du Jane! Contest Finals  Copyright Sat1
Anton Zetterholm ~ Phil Collins ~ Elisabeth Hübert Copyright Sat1
The finalists in the German contest were determined by votes from home viewers. Winners for the lead roles were Anton "Tarzan" Zetterholm, of Swedish extraction and Elisabeth "Jane" Hübert from Germany. The two very talented performers were congratulated by special guest Phil Collins, who had written the words and music for the popular musical.  All the lyrics were translated into German and both finalists can sing fluently in either English or German. Following this selection, all cast members went into intensive training for the very demanding acrobatic and vocal skills demanded by the production, which premiered on September 19th in Hamburg's Neue Flora theatre.

Sue-On and I planned to stay a week in Hamburg, but a lengthy strike at Brandon University forced a change of plans. I had just retired from my job as professor at the Faculty of Education after 40 years as an educator so my timetable was quite flexible. Sue-On, however, is a non-union instructor in her department and was forced to take on increased teaching and administrative duties and could not take a week off.

Tarzan opening night celebrations are always an exciting, gala affair but the city of Hamburg holds a number of additional interests for me.

First, there is the Edgar Rice Burroughs connection. ERB never travelled to Europe, but back in 1893 Europe came to him. The teenager spent an amazing summer at Chicago's Columbian Exposition - a groundbreaking event which saw both ERB and America come of age. For the first part of the summer he was with his fellow cadets of the Michigan Military Academy. They camped on the grounds, paraded regularly around the site, participated in many ceremonies and found time to marvel at the splendid pavilions from all over the world. Later in the summer, young Ed Burroughs, while working for his father's battery company, was the centre of attraction as he piloted Chicago's first electric horseless carriage through throngs of spectators on the grounds. But surely the attraction that fired ERB's imagination above all others was the Carl Hagenbeck Wild Animal Arena and Museum. A multitude of animals from Africa and all over the world were exhibited in revolutionary open-air enclosures instead of cages -- separated from the public by invisible ditches. Hagenbeck pioneered the use of rewards-based animal training as opposed to fear-based training. Years later Hagenbeck animals would be used in a number of Tarzan films and ERB even referred to Hagenbeck's book in The Son of Tarzan.

It was with great expectation then that I planned a day-long visit to Hagenbeck's Tierpark and Aquarium in Hamburg. The large wooded park was filled with "game trails," mountain caves, streams and pools, statues of prehistoric creatures, and countless exhibits of exotic animals, birds and reptiles presented in such a way that they appeared to roam free across their native habitat. The enclosed aquarium attraction was filled with jungle huts, trees, tunnels, and  waterfalls leading to swamps and ponds filled with crocodiles and exotic sea life.

Beatles-Platz on the Reeperbahn The second Hamburg attraction wasn't ERB-related, but it tapped into another of my major lifelong interests: music and show business. In 1960 a ragtag group of five English rock 'n' roll musicians left their regular stint at Liverpool's Cavern Club to play gigs over the next few years in a series of seedy music clubs in Hamburg's notorious red light district along the Reeperbahn. The band played long hours to rowdy crowds for very little pay and emerged from the experience to become a worldwide phenomenon that set off a cultural frenzy that came to be dubbed Beatlemania. We have played many Beatles songs over the years. An English musician friend had turned me on to them early in the '60s and had sent over records before the band became widely known outside of the UK. A few years later Sue-On and I played much of their material during our three tours of England, and in more recent times, I did a stint as John Lennon in a Beatles tribute band. So it was a great thrill to listen to the bands in the Indra and other rock clubs along Grosse Fraheit . . . and to take photos of the Beatles memorial sculptures on the Reeperbahn.

My journey to my third Hamburg attraction took me along the waterfront of the Elbe River to the downtown shopping area. Tarzan images were everywhere: scrolling billboards, bus stops, train stations, store signs, posters on buses and taxis, newsstands -- it was Tarzan mania.  An impressive sight across the Elbe is the gigantic head of a male lion mounted on a large theatre. This is Der Konig Der Lowen, in which Disney's Lion King has played for many years. My destination though, was the War Memorial. Three of my uncles served in WWII as RCAF Lancaster and Halifax bomber pilots and had flown many missions over Germany before being shot down. ERB had devoted many years of his life to the military and had been very involved in the war in the Pacific in his senior years, where he served as the oldest war correspondent in the Pacific Theatre. His views on the glory of warfare changed considerably during that time and he probably would have been very touched by the inscription on the Hamburg Memorial: On the night of 30th July 1943, 370 persons perished in the air-raid shelter on the Hamburgerstrasse in a bombing raid. Remember these dead. Never again fascism. Never again war.

Of course the highlight of the week was the premiere of Tarzan the Musical at the Neue Flora Theatre -- a huge modern theatre with a three-storey reception and lobby area. My friend, Kerry Morris, from our hometown drove up from Frankfurt to pick me up at my hotel in time to attend the red carpet ceremonies on Sunday afternoon. Kerry has homes in Canada and Malaysia and operates a business at Frankfurt Airport. I had made last minute arrangements for him to use Sue-On's VIP ticket. Using his Mercedes' GPS we found the theatre and were directed to the parkade. We made the long trek up the theatre steps fringed by hundreds of fans and photographers and entered the foyer where I presented my invitation from Disney & Phil Collins and picked up our tickets. Another red carpet led past dazzling banks of lights and microphones, behind which were more reporters, photographers, and television and film crews who were in a frenzy as they tried to catch the attention of the many German media stars and VIPs.

Two Lone Canucks: Bill Hillman and Kerry Morris

ERB, Inc. President, Jim Sullos and Webmaster, Bill Hillman
Once we made it to the reception areas we were greeted with an endless procession of tray-bearing servers handing out champagne, cocktails, and hors d'oeuvres. We had much time to mingle and observe the many fancy dress outfits -- tuxedos and evening dresses were the norm. All talk was in German, of course, although we met no one who didn't know English. Eventually we met up with Jim Sullos, the new ERB, Inc. president who had flown in from Tarzana, California. As far as I know, outside of those connected with the production, we were the only North Americans in attendance. Our first meeting with Jim was at last year's Holland premiere, and since then we have met numerous times -- the most notable being at Danton Burroughs' memorial in Tarzana where we both gave tributes at the outdoor service.

The call to be seated came shortly before the 5:30 curtain time and 2,000 guests filed into the auditorium. The open seating and high ceiling of the Neue Flora lends itself very well to the Tarzan production, which features almost constant activity above the audience as flying critters, apes, Tarzan, and even Jane appear out of the darkness high above. They then swung over the heads of the patrons to land on the stage or to disappear into the faux jungle along the auditorium sides. The theatres in both Holland and Hamburg are far superior to the Richard Rodgers Theatre where Tarzan opened on Broadway. Aerial action was severely restricted by the older style of the Rodgers, lack of off-stage room, and by the large balcony which extended well toward the stage.

Soon after we were seated there was thunderous applause and the entire theatre audience jumped to their feet to look toward the centre of the auditorium where an entourage was arriving. I thought at first it must be a head of state or an important German dignitary. On closer look it turned out to be the creator of the play's music -- Phil Collins. A special treat at each of the premieres has been the chance to meet and chat with Phil Collins at the after-show parties, since he has attended all of these performances. He has also played a major role in the lead-up staging of each production and has seemed quite amused at hearing his lyrics translated into Dutch and German.

The opening scenes of the play were captivating and are cleverly staged -- the storm, the shipwreck, and the Greystokes crawling to safety on the beach, are all enhanced by a spectacular sound system and the clever use of actor harnesses and attached wires. The singing of the principals in all the productions has been first rate. . . often a very difficult task to perform while suspended high above the stage or audience. The Tarzans in all three productions have all been very athletic, although their physiques have been on the very lithe side -- a bulky Elmo Lincoln would have great difficulty in performing the aerial acrobatics required. The Janes have been well cast -- especially the blonde, gorgeous European actresses. Jane's father and the dastardly Greystoke cousin played their roles to the hilt. The mangani were very believable and were well-trained for their aerobatics -- although one ape lost his guide wire and was stranded in the aisle next to us until rescued. The scenes and songs have seen a steady evolution since the Broadway production. This fine-tuning and the superior spacious modern design of the European theatres perhaps are the main reasons for the overwhelming success of the production on the continent.

Intermission provided time to stretch and to visit the open bar or ample more of the servers' delights. The second act featured an entertaining mix of appealing songs, razzmatzz action on stage, special lighting effects, and a barrage of jungle denizens swinging over our heads. No photography was allowed during the performance, but as soon as the curtain calls commenced there was a rush of photographers down the aisles. My friend Kerry had left his camera bag back at the hotel -- deciding to travel light with a high-end digital still camera. We were very disappointed though, when he discovered that his new batteries had been inserted into the camera backwards and were dead. Since the spare batteries were all back at the hotel, we had to make do with Sue-On's small Nikkon digital which explains some of the dubious quality of the theatre photos on the ERBzine site.

There were many curtain calls and rousing standing ovations. Tarzan and Jane's re-appearance on the stage was a crowd pleaser. Tarzan, holding Jane in his arms, swung on a "vine" from the upper rear heights of the theatre over the audience and down to the stage. In the Holland premiere, the Tarzan actor's auntie sat with us and prepared us for when her nephew Ron Link would be flying over our heads, so I got a good video of the feat.  When the curtain finally fell, we filed out to partake of a elaborate buffet of German food. By a lucky coincidence we sat with one of the few English speaking guests -- he was a musician from the Isle of Man who was in Hamburg to supervise recording projects over at the Lion King theatre. This provided a good opportunity to swap tales about working in UK clubs and to talk music.

After dining I elbowed my way to a doorway where the cast was to file out to meet with the audience and media. First out was the band which had provided the backing music for the show -- a sound so polished that many people thought it came from recorded backing tracks. The musicians carried their respective instruments with them -- a strange eclectic assortment, but it had all come together to provide perfect accompaniment for the Collins lyrics. The percussionists carrying their African drums had actually appeared first and provided jungle rhythms while the entire cast filed out to the beat. A great photo op.

A nine-piece band with three vocalists set up by the dance floor and soon the dancing got underway. The exuberant young Tarzan actor and his understudies took over much of the floor and obviously had a great time all night giving Tarzan yells and running through the crowd. The party carried on -- a photographer's delight. For a while the centre of attraction was Dolly, a towering two-metre-tall drag queen and his/her companion. We met up with Jim Sullos again and had fun posing on the red carpet. A major disappointment was the lack of a press package and swag bag full of Tarzan memorabilia such as we had been issued in Holland. We had promised Sue-On and the girls at the ERB, Inc. office -- Janet, Cathy and Willie -- that we would bring back some souvenirs -- T-shirts, CDs, key chains, cups, etc. -- but the sales counter was closed for the opening night celebration.

Midnight, and although the party was still hoppin', we decided to call it a night. Kerry had an appointment in Frankfurt the next day and had a long early morning drive ahead of him. Jim told us later that he had gone to a nearby bar and had met Anton's father from Sweden. Mr. Zetterholm was a bit worried about his son since the actor had suffered a sprain during rehearsals and the show's schedule was so heavy he was hoping that it would have a chance to recover.

I had a day before my flight back to Canada, so on Monday I visited some newsstands to pick up the reviews and photo coverage on the opening night. From what I could tell the German reviews were great and each paper featured many colour photos of the play and the celebrity guests. All of these clippings I later scanned to share with our Website readers. The day was sunny and cool, and the leaves were falling as I made a final walk around the St. Pali district. Here I  joined packs of tourists to stroll past the hundreds of sex shops on the Reeperbahn, gave smiles-but-no-thanks to the many pretty girls working the streets, and ducked into my favourite Internet cafe to contact family. I  by-passed the many American fast food places (McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, et al) to make final visits to my favourite East Indian and Chinese restaurants and made my way to the St. Pali underground station.

The Hamburg underground is incredibly efficient, clean and safe. Trains speed to every part of the city and leave the stations every three to five minutes. To finish the Tarzan photo feature I had started earlier in the week I took the train to the main downtown station. From there I walked through the downtown area snapping photos of the many Tarzan posters with places of interest in the background. Behind each Tarzan poster image were crowds of friendly people, classy department stores, malls, large solid towering buildings, outdoor tables crowded with diners, and buskers on every street corner.

The return flight to Winnipeg via Amsterdam and Minneapolis was long. The transatlantic crossing was on a jumbo Airbus, however, which offered scores of movie and music channels at every seat. Two meals with wine were served. Sue-On was waiting at Winnipeg Airport and the three-hour drive back to Brandon provided a chance to fill her in with all the adventures from the past week. Stage Entertainment plan to move Tarzan to Berlin next year, and since they also have theatres in many other European and Russian cities it looks as if Tarzan will have a long life on the boards.

Supplementary Web Resources in ERBzine

Tarzan the Musical in Hamburg
Tarzan the Musical in Holland
Tarzan the Musical on Broadway
Ed Burroughs' Wonderful Summer of '93
ERB / Hagenbeck Connection
Beatles in Hamburg
Text in WORD file:
Text in HTML file
Photo Pool
Danton Burroughs Memorial Tribute Site
Hillman WWII Tribute Sites
The ERBzine Webpages and Webzines

Tarzan the Musical in Hamburg

Intro & Pre-Production
Cast ~ Credits ~ Invitation
Opening Night Press Reviews I
Opening Night Press Reviews II
Tarzan Swings Through Hamburg I
Tarzan Swings Through Hamburg II
Jungle Animals in Hagenbeck Tierpark
Expedition to Tarzan's Pellucidar Home
Trek Around Tarzan's Pellucidar 
Hillman Hamburg Adventure
Opening Night Candid Photos
2011: Going into the 4thYear
Tarzana, California
The Fantastic Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs
Editor and Webmaster Bill Hillman
ERBzine Weekly Webzine
Danton Burroughs Website: Tarzana Treasure Vaults
Burroughs Bibliophiles
John Coleman Burroughs Tribute Site
Tarzine: Official Monthly Webzine of ERB, Inc.
John Carter of Mars
Edgar Rice Burroughs
ERBzine Weekly Webzine
Weekly Webzine
Danton Burroughs Weekly Webzine
Weekly Webzine

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