A king of jungle and stage

The first musical version of Tarzan has swung onto Broadway.

Eight times each week, Tarzan lets out a yell from the rear of Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York City. Then he swings on a vine over the heads of the audience to the stage. Appearing live in a theater is a new adventure for the orphan boy brought up by a tribe of apes in Africa.

There are many ways to tell a story, but for some people, the most exciting storytelling take place on a stage with live actors who bring the characters to life.

The author of the Tarzan tales, Edgar Rice Burroughs, first brought Tarzan from his imagination to the printed page nearly 100 years ago. After many books, nearly 40 films, and countless radio and television programs, the Disney Co. turned the story into the animated cartoon movie, "Tarzan," in 1999.

Many actors have played Tarzan, but Josh Strickland is the first to play him in a Broadway musical. Mr. Strickland is appearing as a professional actor for the first time. He was a contestant on "American Idol" and sings well, but he had to compete against other actors to win the part.

"Tarzan" begins when Tarzan becomes an orphan because his parents are killed after a shipwreck off the coast of Africa. A mother ape, who has lost her child, raises him as her own. Tarzan knows he is different from his ape playmates. Even though he is not as large or as strong as they are, he can plan ahead and think up solutions to the challenges of the jungle.

In the musical. we see Tarzan at three different ages. First we meet the baby Tarzan - represented by a shadow puppet. Strickland plays the adult Tarzan.

Two actors - Daniel Manche, who is 13 years old, and Alex Rutherford, 12 - alternate the part of Tarzan as a child. There are two actors for one part because the show is performed eight times a week, and young actors are required to keep up with their schoolwork, even when they're appearing in a play. They must attend school or, as Daniel and Alex do, study backstage with a tutor.

After the actors were chosen, the cast worked for 12 weeks in rehearsals. This was longer than usual because the actors had to learn to move naturally in the air on special equipment as well as memorize their lines and songs.

How a play is put together

As members of the audience, we see only the actors. But it takes a team to help them tell the story.

The producerchooses the story, finds a theater, and raises the money to pay the actors and cover the costs of building the sets and costumes. He also hires the rest of the team.

The first person the producer hires is the playwright, who writes the script. If the show is a musical, a composer for the music and a lyricist to write the verses for the songs must also be found.

The directoris hired next. Working with a set designer and a costume designer, the director decides how to arrange the actors on stage and how the story will unfold in the theater.

The set designer creates the scenery for the stage. He makes sketches for the carpenters and painters to follow when they build the sets.

The scenery for Disney's "Tarzan" turns the stage into a large green box of inflatable plastic. Three of the walls are covered with long ribbons of green plastic. The fourth wall is open so the audience can see into the stage. The inflatable floor and walls allow the actors to make soft landings from the air.

The costume designer decides on the clothing that each character will wear.

A lighting designer makes sure that the actors can be seen. The lights also tell the audience about the changing times of day and night. He also designs special effects, such as the huge spider web shown on the back wall of the stage. This relates to part of the story: Jane Porter, the first human Tarzan has ever met, is caught by a giant spider and taken to its web when she first lands in Africa. Tarzan hears her cries and rescues her.

Another member of the team is the choreographer, who creates dances and teaches them to the actors.

A special aerial designer invented the flying equipment for the stage musical. Tarzan and the actors who play wild animals wear harnesses that are attached with metal buckles to long nylon lines and bungee cords. These enable them to "fly" high above the stage as if they were apes traveling through the jungle.

What would you do?

Tarzan does not walk upright much until he meets Jane Porter, played by Jenn Gambatese. She and her father, a professor, have traveled to Africa to study the animals.

She teaches him to speak English, and they fall in love. The play ends with Jane swinging off through the trees with Tarzan. Do you think this is realistic? Could you give up civilization to live in a jungle?

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