News Column

Review: Musical 'Tarzan' delights in Bradenton

August 9, 2014

By Marty Clear, The Bradenton Herald



Aug. 09--There's a difference between writing mega-hit pop songs and writing songs that serve the plot and characters in musical theater.

Phil Collins is an undeniable expert at the former, but his work in "Tarzan," which opened Thursday at the Manatee Performing Arts Center in Bradenton, shows that he's a novice as a composer of musicals. There's not a memorable song in the show. Even the hit "You'll Be in My Heart" is uninspired.

Collins' music is probably the main reason why "Tarzan" doesn't enjoy a great reputation among theater fans, and that reputation is one reason the new Manatee Players' staging is such a wonderful surprise.

Some beautiful performances, most notably by Brian Kleinschmidt and Sarah Cassidy as Tarzan and Jane, imaginative direction and fun choreography by Rick Kerby, and flavorful lighting by Joseph P. Oshry all help the show succeed.

The story starts with the baby who will eventually become Tarzan being stranded in jungle and adopted by a family of apes. Mother Kala gives him unconditional love; father Kerchak is always a bit wary, because he knows how cruel humans can be.

The aristocratic Jane Porter comes to the jungle on a scientific expedition with her professor father. She and Tarzan are immediately smitten with each other, and the rest is B-movie history.

The first act is all exposition and drags a bit. But after intermission, the story focuses on the romance between Tarzan and Jane and becomes more involving.

This staging is at its best when Manatee Players regular Cassidy and Kleinschmidt, who's making his Bradenton-area debut, are on stage together. They both have great vocal and acting chops, and there's a palpable chemistry between them.

There's no shortage of fine performances in smaller roles -- notably Jack Hackleroad as Professor Potter -- and the ensemble work is terrific.

The cast is made up mostly of actors playing apes in stylized costumes. They're squatting, jumping, dancing, climbing, swinging on grapevines and turning cartwheels for almost their entire time on stage. It has to be physically taxing, but every one of them makes it look easy.

There are a few odd elements in this staging that don't quite work. The music is mostly recorded, but there is a drummer on each side of the stage playing along. The difference in the sound quality between the live drums and the recorded music is disconcerting, and the drummers (and the choruses of background singers who join them throughout the show) can draw your eye away from the stage.

The set's not up to the standards of the rest of the production. It's basically strips of fabric -- meant to suggest vines, apparently -- lining the stage. Considering some of the fantastic sets Manatee Players have given us in since they moved into the Manatee Performing Arts Center, and considering the lush potential for a jungle set, it was a bit disappointing.

But the story's engaging, the acting and singing from the leads are great, and Kerby's kinetic staging is a joyous thing to watch.

Details: Through Aug. 24, at Stone Hall at the Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave, W., Bradenton. Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $27-$37. Call 941-748-5875, or go to manateeplayers.com to buy tickets or get more information.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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(c)2014 The Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, Fla.)

Visit The Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, Fla.) at www.bradenton.com

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Source: Bradenton Herald (FL)


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