Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Legally Blonde
Based on the 1999 animated film, the musical has a new book by David Henry Hwang and includes the five songs that Phil Collins wrote for the movie plus nine new ones he composed for the stage production. Shipwrecked and with his parents killed, the baby Tarzan ends up being raised by a gorilla couple. While Kerchak feels no bond with the human boy, his wife Kala immediately connects with him and brings him up into adulthood. However, when an expedition arrives in the jungle, Tarzan discovers humans and wrestles with identity issues when he realizes that he isn't a gorilla. He also discovers new strange feelings whenever he's around the English woman named Jane.
The 90-minute film is fleshed out into a two-plus hour production with several nice added moments between Tarzan and Kala and some new Collins tunes, including a lovely act two duet for Tarzan and Jane. However, Hwang's book is a little wooden at times and the added songs are ballad heavy, which combine to slow the show down and make it seem slightly padded.
Even with the drawbacks of the script and score, director and choreographer Cambrian James instills plenty of energy in the Hale production, with vibrant choreography and some impressive gorilla-like movements by the ensemble and the actors playing Kala and Kerchak. James has also crafted several touching moments between Tarzan and his mother as well as a playful and budding romance between Tarzan and Jane.
As Tarzan, Curtis Lunt has the appropriate athletic physique, impressive vocals and inquisitive nature to be both physically imposing and playfully agile. His second act solo "Strangers Like Me" is especially well done and he also creates realistic relationships with his fellow castmates. Emily Giauque Evans' Jane has a heightened sense of enthusiasm, with her expressive eyes widening and glowing at the new discoveries she finds in the jungle. Like Lunt's Tarzan, Evans instills Jane with an innate curiosity, though hers is more verbal while his is more physical, along with the requisite adventurous tone. Lunt and Evans make a winning couple and their act two love duet "For the First Time" is expertly sung.
Carrie Klofach brings a huge amount of heart to Kala, creating many poignant moments that instill the relationships Kala has with Tarzan and Kerchak with a sense of realism. Klofach meaningfully displays the deep bond, care, and connection of a loving mother in a very touching way. Ben Mason brings a fine sternness to the role of Kerchak while also being slightly ferocious, without being too scary for younger audience members, and is commanding as the leader of the tribe. Mason and Klofach make their duet "Sure as Sun Turns to Moon" heartfelt and genuine. In smaller parts, Vinny Chavez, as Tarzan's gorilla buddy Terk, is playful and rambunctious, even swinging precariously from a chandelier during the "Trashin' the Camp" number. Matthew Ryan Harris is delightfully comical as well as warm as Jane's father Professor Porter, and Stephen Serna is appropriately cocky and greedy as the antagonist of the show, the hunter and guide Clayton, without being too much of a caricature villain.
Hale's production elements are excellent. The scenic design by Adam DeVaney, Brian Daily, Alex Fogle, and Monica Christiansen creates an immersive experience, with the lush green flora and fauna of the jungle surrounding you on all sides. While some of the costumes, including the elaborate ape designs, come from a previous production at one of Hale's sister theatres in Salt Lake City, Mary Atkinson's new designs plus her coordination of the existing outfits is impressive. Jeff A. Davis' lighting designs are always superb and his Tarzan creations, which paint the lush and dark tones of the jungle in stunning swatches of color and shadow, are some of his best. James also provides the make-up designs which include some effective face and body paint creations.
While Hale's production can't do much to eliminate the few slow-going scenes and songs, it still manages to evoke plenty of poignancy in the high flying and fun adventure. And while Burroughs' tale and the Disney film are mainly known as a love story between Tarzan and Jane, Hale does an excellent job of capturing the strong and touching mother-son bond at the center of the story.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of Tarzan runs through August 22nd, 2015, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling (480) 497-1181
Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James