Review ~ 'Tarzan the Musical' at Amity High School

Nancy Sasso Janis / Critic The students at Amity Regional High School come from the towns of Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge, and for their spring musical this year they decided to head to the jungle to present 'Tarzan the Musical' based on the Disney film. An ambitious choice to be sure, but in their eight years at Amity directors Robert and Andrea Kennedy have never been afraid of a challenge. Of course the massive Amity Theater Department pulled it off. The audience came out on opening night despite the spring snow and the sold out Saturday crowd of which I was a part cheered throughout what is most likely one of the best productions I will see this year, student or otherwise.

The lobby decoration and concessions predictably had a jungle theme, as did the auditorium complete with jungle noises and gracious ushers wearing pith helmets. The heftiest program in the state featured a bright green cover, loads of student photos, and recognition of the corporate sponsors. Mr. Kennedy writes that he saw the Disney musical in 2007 while attending a teacher's conference (I would love to attend such a conference.) The director was impressed with the "human story of man vs. nature, survival, family and love" and the music by Phil Collins, whose music defined the decade when he was a teenager. He adds that Tarzan is the second most filmed character in history after Dracula and "we are proud to add our chapter to this rich history."

While 'Tarzan' was a new show for me, I had enjoyed most of the first act at a rehearsal last week. This only served to make me love the show even more, as I knew how hard these students were working to make it all work. The choreography by Mrs. Kennedy was stunning, especially since most of it required the dancers to crouch down in a gorilla pose. I loved the production numbers "Two Worlds," "Son of Man," and Terk's "Who Better Than Me." The flying techniques that the cast and crew had learned from ZFX, Inc. went off without a hitch and was pretty impressive. Beautiful graphics (by Andrew Schmitz and Scott Gusciora) and lighting (by Dan Hassenmayer) rivaled a Broadway show, as did the amazing jungle set designed by Mr. Kennedy.

The costumes required for this one clearly were a daunting task and costume designer Julie Chevan, her assistant Brenda Burt and their crew made the grade. Sketches and fabric swatches were on display in the lobby of the beautiful creations. Ape costumes were a mix of leotards and patches of thick brown fur, coupled with intricate make up and large wigs, all of which held up to strong dancing. Some costumes were provided by Costume World Theatrical in Florida.

And of course there was the incredible talent of the students in the cast and orchestra pit. Thirty-four musicians made up the excellent all-student orchestra under the direction of Phil Dolan and they played the infectious score to the hilt. Peter Randazzo served as Musical Director.

The twenty-seven dancers in the ape ensemble included three elementary age girls as young apes. A subset of this group danced as jungle plants and creatures. The Jali (Julia Goclowski, Emily Kilian, Joyce Lin, Ryan Rappaport and Ryan Rattley) were outstanding vocalists outfitted in African garb that served as a chorus of narrators.

Addie Robbins played the very English Jane Porter; her lovely singing voice and stage presence made her a charming Jane to Max Karsanow's adult Tarzan. This young man had incredibly high energy for his graceful flying and a great voice as well. Jeff Gallo and Clara Stirling played Lord and Lady Greystoke and had to fly during their brief appearance. Jacob Leibowitz was Professor Porter, Jane's father.

In the role of Young Tarzan was the son of the directors, Ryan Kennedy. The sixth grader from Bethany gave an adorable performance and the fact that he resembles the student playing the older version of his character made it all the more convincing.

Among the animals there was some serious talent. The nimble sophomore Josiah Oakley was hysterical as Tarzan's buddy Terk. Senior Caroline Burkhart was the graceful and deadly Sabor the Leopard. Senior Kahari Blue commanded the role of alpha male Kerchak and I will miss him in next year's production. Senior Morgan Guadagnoli, in her first AHS production, was sheer perfection in the role of Kala. This young lady tugged at the heartstrings as she mothered Tarzan throughout his life and sang "You'll Be in My Heart" so very well.

'Tarzan' continues next weekend 27th at 8pm and March 28th at 2pm and 8pm. Try to get a ticket to see this outstanding production.