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Disney's Tarzan - the German premiere in Hamburg

A Disney musical is as remote from Genesis as a penguin from the North Pole. There are worlds between them, but there is one link. None other than Genesis drummer and singer Phil Collins has written the score for the musical.

In the late 90s Phil produced and released his first full soundtrack for the Disney movie Tarzan. People’s opinions were divided. Four years later he added another soundtrack for Disney’s Brother Bear. Disney had further plans for Tarzan and so they asked Collins whether he could write more songs for a Broadway musical production of Tarzan.

Phil mit Tarzan und JanePhil felt honoured that they had even asked him. He wrote several new songs, melodies and instrumentals to go with the five songs from the cartoon soundtrack. In 2006 Tarzan premiered on Broadway. Reviews were only so-so, the musical did not become a hit. But it had been decided quite early to bring Tarzan to Europe. The Netherlands and Germany were considered safe bets, and so Tarzan started in 2007 Scheveningen near The Hague – very successfully. In summer 2008 the casting show Ich Tarzan, Du Jane! was used to find the principal actors for the German musical. Phil himself was present for the finale.

The Neue Flora Theatre in Hamburg was selected as the venue for the musical. Phantom Of The Opera had been played there successfully before. Extensive rehearsals took place in September and October 2008. In early October Phil came to see how things went and spent a couple of days in Hamburg. A fan preview took place on October 11. Fan previews are test performances to gauge the reaction of the audience and solve final problems. A couple of readers and members of our website were present at the fan preview. A week later (on Oct 18) the show premiered for the media. Assorted representatives from online, TV and print media and special guests were invited to make up their minds on the musical.

A grand gala premiere marked the official start of the musical on October 19. Some of the staff and our guest reviewer Maik Frömmrich (read his review) attended the media premiere and numerous fans and readers of our website watched the show a week before that at the fan preview. We have brought together all the information and impressions from the preview, the media premiere and the gala premiere for you.

Tarzan als Kind The Show

The theatre is lit by a foggy light, green jungle liana can be see to the left and the right; a log book shows up on screens. At the same time a ship can be seen on a transparent curtain, there are cracking and screeching noises and the sound of a thunderstorm fills the room. It is a few minutes to eight and a bit later there is a loud bang. The curtain drops, the ship sinks and Tarzan’s parents appear who are in danger of drowning with their son. The scene is arranged vertically and provides a first impression of what is to come. Hardly anything works without ropes this evening. Right after Tarzan’s family has reached the beach the room is filled from all directions with monkeys. The auditorium is used mainly to fly around in. Monkeys appear from everywhere on liana and make the fine opener Zwei Welten (Two Worlds) a gripping experience. The whole stage production clearly focuses on the vertical, introducing the main attraction of the stage show right at the beginning. Throughout the show members of the cast keep flying above the audience, across the stage or vanish at the top of the stage or near the audience in a tangle of liana.

In the first act the presence of the leopard (that appears in the first scene) makes for exciting moments. 

TarzanThe second highlight is the entry of Tarzan as a child. The audience applaud as ten-year-old Jannik Semmelhaack appears for the first time (and every time after). The conflict between Kershak (excellent performance) and Tarzan that appeared in the movie could have been worked out a bit stronger. The acting suffers a bit from the necessity to have to sing. The corresponding song Gar Keine Wahl (No Other Way) is another highlight.

During So Ein Mann (Son Of Man) Tarzan grows up and Semmelhaack is replaced by the grown-up actor (Anton Zetterholm) – his first appearance above the audience is another highlight. Auf Diesen Tag Hab Ich Gewartet is a big visual experience: The cast appear dressed as animals and plant in incredible costumes. The artistic presentation of the biodiversity in the jungle is extremely impressive and a pleasure for the eye.

While grown-up Tarzan acts good but still has potential for improvement Jane is far more authentic. The role of Terk should perhaps have been given to someone else – it shows that he is not absolutely comfortable with the German language and it impairs his acting. 

Krach im LagerThe beginning of act 2 is a highlight – Krach Im Lager (Trashin’ The Camp) was a big moment in the film, not least because of Phil’s soft spot for percussive performance. The actors sing and dance across the stage en masse, fly through the air and make a really big noise. It is a big blowoff as in the first act, only this time it is for fun rather than tension.

Clayton and Jane’s father now make their appearance. Clayton performs well if at times a bit too soft. Jane’s father does an excellent job though one wonders why the role was given to such a young actor. He is the actor who resembles his cartoon character most closely, and he plays his role close to the film as well. The musical follows the plot of the Disney film, of course, but a couple of changes were made. The end was changed a bit; in the musical, the gorillas are not brought aboard the ship and freed by Tarzan.

The finale is a kind of mega-mix of the best film songs while the actors fly above the audience once more. All in all the audience are brought into the action very well. The musical has landed in Hamburg and it promises to be great entertainment.

The Music

Many elements and songs of the musical were made popular by the American cast album, and Collins himself has recorded Everything That I Am. Writing a musical was a new challenge for Phil Collins; it does not compare to the dramaturgy of an album like Phil’s debut Face Value or older Genesis records like Foxtrot. Collins did his best to live up to the demands of a musical, but there are some lengthy moments in the music.

janeParadoxically for a musical, the music always become interesting when there are instrumental passages with strong drums; the parallel to Genesis is evident. The songs have, of course, a different structure than on “normal” Collins albums. Some songs resemble early Collins material. Du Brauchst Einen Freund (Who Better Than Me) sounds like a successor to Two Hearts. Some songs suffer a bit from translation; they work better in English. Collins captures the mood of the individual scenes very well, and while you experience the musical you realize just why Collins was so keen on this production. Sometimes the music could have supported the story a bit better.

A review of the album recorded by the German cast will soon be available.

The premiere events

The fan preview on October 11 was one of the first performances that was sort of public. Tickets were available at a specially reduced price along with free drinks and admission to the after-show party. Expecting too much from that party would have meant disappointment. Its highpoint was a duet between Tarzan and Jane (Dir Gehört Mein Herz / You’ll Be In My Heart).

Tarzan, Phil und JaneThe media premiere on October 18 was attended by journalists from newspapers, magazines, internet forums, other media representatives and selected guests. A press kit contained interesting details about the production, but the only cast bios were those of the actors who play Tarzan and Jane. The cast CD of the musical was part of the press kit as well as a brief, correct and up-to-date biography of Phil Collins. Collins was not present in the theatre during the media premiere. The actor who plays Terk injured his hand during the show. He played on but could not perform the next day.
The grand premiere of the musical took place on October 19. Phil Collins was present, as were celebrities like Udo Jürgens and Chris Norman.


Two Worlds – that is probably the best description as far as Genesis fans are concerned. While Collins spent lots of the show hitting the drums himself playing prog songs with his Genesis mates in 2007 he has now brought a musical to the stage and produced a concept album (the cast album) much like Peter Gabriel did with OVO in 2000. 

The criticism and malice (particularly from Genesis fans) he met for this will fade away with time. A musical is admittedly something other than Genesis-style rock music both from an artistic as well as a conceptual point of view. Developing and following other interests, however, fits very well into the way of life of a member of Genesis. Phil Collins is certainly quite as versatile as Peter Gabriel. He has played in Genesis and the fusion outfit Brand X, enjoyed a solo career at least the early part of which was interesting, has had two big band projects, two Disney film soundtracks, and now he has composed the music for a musical that will in all probability be a big success. One need not like that, but many who attend the show will see Phil’s work in a whole new light. The show is breathtaking and suitable for all age groups. It is funny, dramatic, sometimes a bit long and most of all it is spectacular.

Tickets for the show are available from this link.

by Christian Gerhardts
translated by Martin Klinkhardt
photos © and courtesy of Stage Entertainment GmbH

Further information:
| Show review by a musical expert
| Review of the German cast CD

| Review of the Broadway cast CD