IVINS – After the successful regional premiere of Tarzan in 2010, the exciting Disney musical is back by popular demand at Tuacahn Amphitheater. This year’s one of a kind encore production, directed by Bill Burns, exceeds in creativity and does not disappoint.
The musical, with music and lyrics by Phil Collins and a book by David Henry Hwang, is based on the 1999 Disney film of the same name, adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s 1912 story, Tarzan of the Apes. Having been reimagined many times, the familiar story of the jungle “ape man” and his attraction to the young scientist, Jane, is as endearing now as it was in the early twentieth century. Common in other Disney classics, the musical explores themes of family, love, and finding oneself through a personal journey.
Playing the title character of Tarzan, Scott Mulligan depicts his role with enough innocence and naiveté that his existence as a man who has never been introduced to his own species is believable. Mulligan has little time alone on stage, so what makes his performances stand out are the connections he is able to make with his fellow cast members. He has a realistic and heartwarming chemistry with both his ape-mother, Kala (played by Belen Moyano), and Jane (played by Kari Yanci). When Tarzan and Jane first meet, they connect instantly and the excitement exudes from them. Their connection exhibits human instinct that is new for Tarzan, and Mulligan takes care in imitating Yanci’s actions and words to learn how to behave more like a human. It was endearing viewing Mulligan take this journey akin to childhood and ultimately evolving into his manhood, particularly efficacious when he discovers where he came from. Although Jane is teaching Tarzan the ways of the humanity, Tarzan teaches her how to love, the most basic of human instincts. It is poignant to watch Mulligan and Yanci realistically fall into a blissful and innocent love.
When Yanci first appears on stage, she is so taken with the jungle atmosphere that her excitement is enticing. The script provides moments of humor for Jane throughout, and Yanci’s skilled comedic timing is able to emphasize these moments. Her humor and spirited nature provides a nice contrast to Tarzan’s lack of understanding to how the human world works. Yanci and Lawrence Asher, who plays Professor Porter (Jane’s father), appear to have a genuine chemistry, depicting a touching and close father-daughter relationship, demonstrated most strongly in the musical number “Like no Man I’ve Ever Seen.”
Clearly, I greatly enjoyed the strong relationships created throughout the production. Young Tarzan (played by Cairo McGee) and young Terk (played by Christian Leadley) make a great pair, and I was impressed by their youthful energy and “best friend” charisma. I was also pleased to see that the chemistry between Tarzan and Terk (played by Ernie Pruneda) as they become older was just as solid between the new adult actors, and their relationship maintained the same feeling to it, as did their characters as a whole. Pruneda was a delight to watch, being skilled at entertaining and exciting the crowd, especially in the energetic musical number, “Trashin’ the Camp.”
I must also mention the pairing of Moyano and Korie Lee Blossey, who plays Kerchak, Kala’s husband and the leader of the apes. These two may be the standout actors of the entire production. Their singing voices were fantastic, and they were both able to bring an abundance of emotion into their musical numbers. It was enlightening to truly see the struggle Kerchak dealt with when deciding to leave Young Tarzan in the jungle alone. I also loved the way Kerchak moved in a methodical ape-like way, emphasizing his animal character. This was impressive of the entire cast as well, who all focused on their movements and sounds to depict their characters. I enjoyed the playful and loving bond between Moyano and Blossey, and especially between Moyano and Mulligan. Moyano embodied a motherly love and instinct that is unique to the mother-child relationship, and in so doing portrayed a comforting and fierce protectiveness that established herself as a truly believable mother figure.
Having seen Peter Pan the night before and realizing what Tuacahn has to offer, I have to say that Tarzan still exceeded my expectations when it came to design and spectacle. Anticipating another night of intricate fly sequences, choreographed by Paul Rubin, I was pleased to see that they were fairly different from that of Peter Pan. While the flying in Peter Pan seemed to be in gliding, horizontal motions, in Tarzan it was more vertical and jolting. This contrast, accompanied by skilled aerial acrobatics, made the show that much more interesting. The scenic design, by Brad Shelton, and the lighting design, by Joseph L. Eddy, worked together hand in hand, with the dominate purple lighting especially complementing the green set. This is also true of the lighting and the superb costumes, supervised by Wilma Mickler. I was most taken with the fascinating imagery in the number “Waiting for This Moment.” The interesting costumes and set pieces depicting the flora and fauna were stunning, with portions emphasized by a black light to create a breathtaking and beautiful vision.
Lastly, I often hear that what makes Disney’s Tarzan stand out is the show-stopping music. I have never been a Phil Collins fan, or cared much for the Disney film when I was younger. So, I was skeptical about this aspect. A minute into the intro number, I was pleasantly surprised by the enjoyable music. Although the melodies are simple, the lyrics mixed with the rhythmic and pounding orchestral sounds, produced excellently by the live orchestra (supervised by Christopher Babbage), are fun and powerful, and I could not help but be excited and moved. With the musical direction by Michael Hopewell and the sound design by Joanna Staub, all of the music in the piece was done very well. The staging of the dramatic scenes interspersed between the energetic music worked effectively as well, and the ambient jungle sounds throughout added a nice touch that held the audience inside the world of the play.
I could not have been happier to gain a new perspective and appreciation for the music in this show, and for the story as a whole. Tuacahn is the perfect venue to stage such a production, and I applaud everyone involved for their top-notch efforts. Simply put, Tarzan is well worth your ticket and your time, and wonderful for the whole family.