Preview: Local rocker is learning the ropes for 'Tarzan'


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David Toole is a rocker at heart, but he's going to be a swinger in his next role -- the title character in the Pittsburgh Musical Theater production of "Disney's Tarzan." He not only enters swinging on a rope, from one side of the Byham Theater stage to the other, but he also wears, shall we say, very little.

The costume was on his mind when he was offered the opportunity to play the Edgar Rice Burroughs character, a man raised from infancy by apes and who, in the Disney version, sings Phil Collins songs.

'Disney's Tarzan'

Where: Pittsburgh Musical Theater at the Byham Theater, Downtown.

When: Today through May 19. 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays (no performance May 16) and 2 p.m. Sundays.

Tickets: $12-$44; trustarts.org or pittsburghmusicals.com/tix-tarzan; 412-456-6666.

"My first thought was, this will be my third loincloth role. I believe I'm being typecast," he said laughing. "I've done 'Joseph [and the Technicolor Dreamcoat]' twice; I did 'Hair' at Robert Morris, and instead of stripping naked, they allowed me to be a bit more PC. For 'Tarzan,' I realized I had to get myself in shape. I got married last summer and I'm living the married man's life. Three square meals a day puts the pounds on."

Mr. Toole jumped into the Insanity extreme workout program and a diet regimen with ViSalus supplements almost two months ago. These days, he is looking chiseled and lean after dropping 25 pounds. His routine is right for the role, he said, "because that's what the show is -- jumping around, climbing ropes. It requires a physicality that's more than dancing. You've got to be all-over strong."

He hadn't completed his rope training when he was on the phone discussing the role earlier this week, but he said he was already comfortable with the safety aspect of Tarzan's big move that takes him across the stage, then back for a drop down a little past center. "I feel pretty good. I just hope it's not another 'Spider-Man,' " he said, laughing a laugh that said he wasn't really worried at all about ending up like the injury-plagued Broadway show "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark."

Musical theater roles such as Tarzan and Roger, "the pretty boy frontman" in "Rent," have helped him develop more all-around confidence and theatricality as the frontman for the local alt-rock band Identity X, and you may also have heard him belting the national anthems (Canadian and American) at a Penguins playoff game. He met his wife, the former Kathlene Queen, in 2006, when he tried out for his first musical as a sophomore at Robert Morris University, and they played Tony and Maria in "West Side Story."

Now, Mr. and Mrs. Toole are playing Tarzan and Jane for PMT.

Back at that first audition, though, David Toole showed up accompanying a friend and decided to perform for Ken Gargaro, PMT's founder and the head of the Robert Morris drama department. He allows that, to that point, "I might have seen a piece of 'Grease,' " and although he had been performing as a singer since the eighth grade, he had never tried putting together the big-three theatrical disciplines: acting, dancing and singing.

"Ken took a shot with me -- thought he could make me worthy of doing musical theater, I guess," Mr. Toole recalled. He has been a PMT favorite since then, under the tutelage of Mr. Gargaro and "Tarzan" director Colleen Petrucci, and Barbara Lefebvre while at RMU. "And [choreographer] Lisa Elliott is incredibly patient with me because I am still to this day not a dancer at heart at all, so she bends over backward to make sure I understand these moves and get them into my head. It definitely has transcended to my performances with the band," he said.

When Mr. Toole isn't practicing Insanity or swinging like Tarzan, he holds a day job in the Office of Institutional Advancement at Robert Morris. With his Identity X bandmates, he also has been working on an album via the Internet, using FireWire Interface technology, with Toronto-based producer Mike Langford. The singer expects the recording to drop in the fall.

In the meantime, he has been enjoying adapting his powerful voice to the Phil Collins score first heard in the 1999 Disney animated film. The stage adaptation of "Tarzan" ran on Broadway from May 2006 to July 2007, then caught on quickly in Hamburg, Germany, and a company there continues to be a hot ticket.

PMT's production includes an eight-piece band, led by music director Deana Muro.

"I didn't know this score before, but I love, love, love the percussion and the rhythm section of this, and we're going to have three percussion instruments in the pit. ... This also is one of the stronger vocal casts I've worked with; they keep me on my toes," Mr. Toole said.

The show's primate characters, such as Kala (Alysha Watson), Terk (Eddie Henry) and Kerchak (Billy Mason), require the actors to move like the animals they portray, and the cast paid a visit to Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium to get some idea of what that entails. "Only Lisa [Elliott] could make primate movements look cool. It's stunning, really," Mr. Toole said.

He's thankful, though, that Tarzan has been given the luxury of walking upright most of the time.

"Your knuckles get tired really easily," he said.

theater

Sharon Eberson: seberson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1960.


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