You’d think a Disneyfied version of the Tarzan story, one with a score by no less than Phil Collins, simply could not miss. And in the uber capable hands of a troupe such as Slow Burn Theatre, which loves nothing more than to rescue a Broadway musical that tripped itself up before it could bask in the spotlight, you’d expect that show to get a resplendent staging.
Well, “Tarzan the Stage Musical” does indeed get that kind of handsome production from Slow Burn, with a run at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts through Nov. 5. But the show, despite a nimble and blazingly talented cast, remains a fundamentally flawed and possibly irretrievable musical. Collins’ bland lyrics and meh music don’t help matters, even when played by a tight seven-piece band and sung by voices strong and true. The show debuted on Broadway in 2006 to mixed reviews.
Your enjoyment of this show may depend on whether you’re the kind of person who buys into dancing apes. You sure get plenty of hirsute hoofing in this stage-musical version of Disney’s 1999 animated movie, which itself was adapted from the 1912 adventure novel “Tarzan of the Apes” by Edgar Rice Burroughs (published at the height of imperial colonialism, but let us leave those, ahem, hairy issues aside for another day). Every 15 minutes or so, gorillas break out in a production number or someone swings high above the stage in a bit of aerial derring-do. It is impressive, even if the effects are squandered on a scattershot story that never delivers as much emotional punch as it does wowza spectacle.
The show opens with a quick montage of a shipwrecked Victorian couple making it ashore with their infant son and building a treehouse before the African wildlife gets the better of them. Their baby survives, and is adopted by a loving ape named Kala (Shonda L. Thurman) and her wary mate, Kerchak (Danté J.L. Murray), who is also the leader of their tribe of gorillas. Young Tarzan (Christo Joseph Amygdalitsis) begins to be seen as a threat to the troop because he is so different, even as his best friend, young ape Terk (Darius J. Manuel), tries to teach him how to “ape” being a gorilla.
Now a young man, Tarzan (Natale Pirrotta) rescues a young English explorer, Jane (Lindsey Corey), from a nasty fate in the jungle and, with romance blossoming, begins to learn about the human world. Jane is not alone, though. Back at camp is her father, Professor Porter (Michael Kreutz), and hunter-guide Clayton (Michael Cartwright). Clayton, curiously sidelined as a villain, has some pernicious plans for the gorillas and Tarzan.
But try as they might — no, seriously, the creative team and ensemble are giving it everything they have — there isn’t much magic in this show, which seems to dribble on and on for two hours (with a 15-minute intermission).
The bright spots are few and far between though Corey and Pirrotta deliver a powerful rendition of “For the First Time.” The other songs, contemporary pop hits from the movie such as “You’ll Be in My Heart,” “Son of Man” and “Two Worlds,” are sung well.
Yet nothing penetrates. Even a show ostensibly aimed at the youngest theatergoers needs heart and brains in equal measure. Just swooping around won’t cut it with the kids or their glazed-eyed elders. When it comes to conquering inertia, “Tarzan” is a swing and a miss.
“Tarzan the Stage Musical” runs through Nov. 5 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, with 2 p.m. matinees Sundays. Tickets cost $47-$60. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org. A sensory-friendly performance will be held 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, for people with sensory-processing and autism-spectrum disorders (tickets cost $15).