There's a lot of heart in "Disney's Tarzan," the musical about a man who is adopted by primates and finds love with cultured soulmate Jane. In this retelling of Edgar Rice Burrough's iconic tale, "Tarzan" is transformed into a story about parental devotion that was just right for Mother's Day weekend, when Pittsburgh Musical Theater's production opened at the Byham Theater.
Tarzan (a buff David Toole) is orphaned in the jungle, taken in by a gorilla who has lost her child and periodically accepted and rejected by his clan. While he grows up wondering where he fits in, his ape mom remains steadfastly in his corner because, as she says, that's what a mother does.
The stage version was adapted from the 1999 film that included the Phil Collins song "You'll Be in My Heart," which won an Oscar and stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 Adult Contemporary charts for 19 weeks. It's a heartbreaking highlight as sung by Alysha Watson as Tarzan's mother, Kala, in PMT's energetic production.
Among the pros making it work are Billy Mason, whose powerful voice projects authority as the leader of the apes, and PMT veteran Eddie Henry as Tarzan's loyal buddy Terk. Mr. Toole is in tune with the Collins score and the physical demands of the role as he intermittently drags his knuckles, stands tall or swings from a rope. He plays nicely opposite his talented wife, Kathlene Toole, as the boisterous Jane, and it's easy to see them becoming a couple. In supporting roles, Kevin Daniel O'Leary makes a splash as the villainous Clayton in his PMT debut, while Jeremy Czarniak adds comic relief as Jane's doddering father.
Among the show's MVPs are musical director Deana Muro and the eight-piece band perched in steps high on the stage. The set is made for climbing, like a Pittsburgh Zoo jungle gym, and there's a bit of rope work not just for Tarzan, but for Terk and the actors who share their roles as boys. In one colorful scene, jungle creatures dazzle Jane as they cavort on and over the stage. The actors who play the apes appear to be more fringed than furry, but choreographer Lisa Elliott has them moving and grooving like gorillas, bouncing like yo-yos or gathering and grooming in groups.
"Disney's Tarzan" delivers messages of acceptance and what it means to behave like a human. With Mr. Collins' easy-listening score and a talented cast, PMT has produced a romp that's suitable for all ages.
Pittsburgh Musical Theater used the occasion of the season finale to introduce next season's four-show lineup, which reaches for a wide range of demographics: "Miss Saigon," "Shrek the Musical," "Les Miserables" and "Seussical."
Sharon Eberson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960.