Disney’s Tarzan the Musical: The Ape Man Swings onto Broadway

In this so called magical world of musical theatre where those seeking the finer tastes in life often find themselves creating and debating, one must ponder what the initial purpose of musical theatre is and what it truly stands for. For in our own special world, musical theatre is a separate entity from the rest. Some live for it, while many others will live avoiding it. But still what is it that attracts us to the stage?

For some, the ideologies of Broadway provide a night of entertainment and satisfaction which cannot be derived from any other aspect of media. While for others, it’s a transport to a far away land, where our own world is forgotten and the fantasy we take part in is fulfilled by the stories and songs upon the stage. The recent opening of Disney’s Tarzan; the rope swinging, Phil Collins musical was met with an array of negativity from those who have created a living by shunning the artistic worth of others; (we like to call them critics). But what was over looked by others, is the fundamental premise that the show was built upon.

When Disney announced plans to bring Tarzan alive on stage, there were in deed questions to be asked. Would the animated tale of a man raised by apes who falls in love with the first human female he ever meets, translate to the stage as well as the other adapted cartoon musicals of Beauty and The Beast, and the mega hit, The Lion King? With questions aside, it went without saying that if Disney was attaching its name to the project, a high quality product would be produced, and somewhere in the middle of this extravaganza many of those expectations were met, however, others seemingly fell through the vines.

Rather than saturate would-be patrons with all of negative criticisms that many fellow critics have divulged let us purely examine the facts here, and ultimately allow you the eager viewer a chance to decide for yourself. If the 2004 plunder of Dracula the Musical taught us anything, it was that aerial dynamics and flying human beings don’t necessarily erect the structure for a well mounted musical.

In Tarzan, the first scene depicts a shipwreck which leads to the untimely death of Tarzan’s parents. Here, a beautiful and sensual approach was taken in what is seen by the human eye as the entire family floating from the top to the bottom of the stage. The invisible cords did what they were meant to do, and the musical is off to a delightful start. But soon after, with an entire ensemble of flying apes parachuting out of the dismal never changing green vine set drop, one suddenly realizes that the story could have been executed in more artistic manner, if the constant need for flying fur had been eliminated.

The apes can swing; we get the point. There is no need to reinforce the sell over and over. But never fear there’s also flying butterflies, snakes, and cheetahs that do add some flavorful distraction from the still unchanging green vine set.

The costumes and makeup left an awful lot to be desired, and if we didn’t already know the words of “You’ll be in My Heart,” you may have in deed left the Richard Rogers Theatre without a memorable tune resounding in your head. All of this leads me to begâÂ?¦ Oh, Disney where has the splendid imagination and creativity that lives in the bones of Beauty and Beast disappeared to? Please bring it back, for this mounting doesn’t show you in your finest hour. Yet as a provider of three other mind-blowing shows, (including Elton John’s Aida) I know somewhere, under all this wreckage there is a story to be told, and a heart string to be tugged on. Just show me the way, and if you await that sensual satisfaction that your emotions are being tested, you may in deed find the beauty of the show.

So yes, some of the building blocks of musical theatre were over looked, or possibly over-killed, but there is a building eruption of beauty that does grasp on when you least expect it. While Josh Strickland (American Idol) did have a stronger Broadway debut than some who have come before him, it was the female lead of Tarzan who stole the spotlight.

Jenn Gambatese, who plays the vital role of Jane, is well known as the girl who captured our hearts for her turn in the short lived, All Shook Up. The moment Jane steps on the overly green set, the value of the production is raised, and the divas voice is praised. With a sweet yet powerful set of chords, Gambatese easily becomes the main focus of the musical. With minimal flying and swinging, and a touching descent from high above the stage on a swing, she adds a flavor to the show that says that this indeed is genuine. She is a real person with emotions and senses, and with such a gaping heart she can and does accept and fall in love with a man who believes he’s an ape. The concept is ridiculous but the execution is well mannered and intended.

There were nine new songs written for the musical, three of those songs are highly enjoyable, and to little surprise, Gambatese sings all three. She’s without a doubt worth the ticket price alone.

And as for Phil Collins? Composing a score for the musical theatre is never an easy undertaking, and with such an elaborate expertise in writing a memorable song, Collins does provide a handful of new melodies that push the show along, and embarks the audience on a Journey of musical story telling. Yet unlike Disney’s Aida and Beast, there was quite a defining texture to the coverage of delivery and structure that wasn’t apparent in this production. The masterpiece quality which we have come to expect from camp Disney wasn’t delivered, yet that doesn’t mean that an enjoyable, memorable, family friendly show isn’t currently gracing the great white way.

Whether the sets and score left some to be desired, this show has the one thing that every other show this season has failed to come up with. It has the approach of telling a story that provokes our emotions enough to remind us that it’s ok to feel, that its ok to lose track and lose sight of who we are, because somehow and somewhere, we can still find home. It’s acceptable to make mistakes, to be confused, to love someone others don’t approve of, and more than anything its ok to accept the differences among all of us as human beings. This exact message is what is delivered through this production.

Like it or not, you won’t find another show with as much heart as Tarzan. It’s a life lesson to all of us, young and old that life is a learning experience, and we must find the good in everyone and in everything, for at the end of the day, it is our hearts, our souls, and our good hearted conscience that renders us as human beings who aren’t afraid to feel.

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