Tarzan is a Primal Lesson in Vocal Mastery


Pittsburgh Musical Theater is closing out their 25th season with Disney’s Tarzan The Musical, a somewhat juxtaposed interpretation of the animated Disney film from 1999. Directed by Colleen Doyno, The plot follows Tarzan, a boy orphaned in the jungle only to be raised by apes after his parents were killed by a leopard. Fast forward to full-grown Tarzan times, and he’s wild and free, roaming the jungle with not a care in the world, until something, or should I say someone, happened.

During a jungle expedition with her father, Jane amiably wanders off into the brush, and is rescued by Tarzan from a spider on steroids, and from that moment on, the two develop an intertwining and humorous journey to falling head-over-heels in love. However, other members of Jane’s crew have nefarious intentions for Tarzan and his brethren, creating an insatiable power struggle that would ultimately have very adverse effects on the couple, and Tarzan’s adopted family.

What transpires is a magnificent amalgamation of vocal mastery that ripped through the audience and filled The Byham with beautiful, beautiful music.

Dave Toole as Tarzan, fresh from the gym, swung on the stage with big vocals, long dreads, and a little loin cloth. Toole, one of Pittsburgh’s most talented performers, brought his signature sound as he jostled between a feral vine swinger and an articulated jungle dweller. His comedic muscles shined through as he became familiar with his human side, and more importantly, the human form of Jane. As he learns English, and navigates the cruel world of being human, Toole flips, dives, and swings into a perfectly placed role. Abs and Songs.

Kate Queen as Jane brings a crafty sense of wit, sarcasm, and whimsy to the cast. Queen’s airy vocals make it easy to follow Jane back and forth through her journey to find the true meaning of being an explorer of the jungle. Jane’s strength and fearlessness is laced in her archetype, as Queen brought a paralyzing sense of reverence to the human element, truly torn between life and love, her vocal depiction was heavenly.

Alysha Watson as Kala (Ape Mom) was a tour-de-force, and quite simply, the best surprise of the evening. Her vocals were robust and soulful, giving an emotional and effervescent account of a mother’s love for her son, whether human or ape. I hope to see Watson in more productions, and I suspect the city will as well.

Brady Patsy as Kerchack (Ape Dad) is the godfather of bellowing sound, commanding his regal voice box to portray an authoritative and cactus-like exterior towards his adoptive son. Punished by his cynicism, Kerchack means well, and all he wants to do is protect his family, and in the end, protect them he would. Patsy owns every role, and is one of the best method actors I’ve seen in all my years of theater. His vocals, humor, and honesty are icing on an already stacked cake of talent.

Tru Verret-Fleming as Terk was another pleasant surprise as he showcased his blistering vocal range and social swagger of a young Gregory Hines. Fleming’s humor was not lost, as Terk’s snarky and sentimental sides were displayed with expert precision. He continued to delight with every number, and left the audience wanting more.

Tarzan is an all-star vocal performance with loads of humor, soul, and heart. Dr. Brent Alexander brought the jungle to life as musical director, and Lisa Elliot managed to wrangle a complex series of acrobatics, dances, and jigs as choreographer. A far cry from the movie, book, and even the animated film, this production stands on its own two feet, bullying the fractured plot with world-class talent. Tarzan runs through May 14th, for more information, visit pittsburghmusicals.com