Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Also see Gil's review of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels
The musical is based on both the famous Edgar Rice Burroughs story of an orphaned boy who is raised by an ape family in the jungles of Africa and the 1999 Disney animated film. When a family is shipwrecked and the parents are killed by a leopard, baby Tarzan is raised by the gorilla couple Kerchak and Kala. While Kerchak feels no bond with the human boy, his wife Kala immediately connects with him and brings him up to adulthood. However, when an expedition arrives in the jungle and Tarzan sees humans for the first time, he wrestles with identity issues and the fact that he isn't a gorilla. He also discovers new strange feelings whenever he's around the English woman named Jane.
The musical has a new book by David Henry Hwang, which fleshes out the 90-minute film into a full two-act musical and includes the five songs Phil Collins wrote for the movie plus nine new ones he composed specifically for the stage production. The expanded story and score add some poignant moments between Tarzan and Kala as well as a lovely act two duet for Tarzan and Jane. While Burroughs' tale and the Disney film are mainly known as a love story between Tarzan and Jane, the expanded stage adaptation does an excellent job in capturing the strong and touching mother-son bond at the center of the story. However, Hwang's dialogue is a bit stiff in spots, there are some padded moments that don't really add anything to the show, and several of the new songs are ballads or reprises which weigh the plot down a bit and slow down the show's momentum.
Even though I have some quibbles with the script and score, director Elise Palma and the large cast instill an abundance of rich emotion while providing plenty of energy in this CYT production. Palma also makes sure that the touching moments between Tarzan and Kala resonate and there is realism and a sense of playfulness in the budding romance between Tarzan and Jane. The direction only falters during the shipwreck scene, which is virtually nonexistent, and with the use of a large rotating platform during a couple of moments that detracts from the scenes it's used in. Alexandra Biggs's choreography is vibrant and upbeat. There are also some impressive gorilla-like movements performed by the ensemble and the actors playing Tarzan, Kala, and Kerchak, and the music direction by Susan Tuten achieves bright notes and clear sounds from the very large cast.
As Tarzan, Jacob Currie has the appropriate lean, athletic physique the character is famous for, and his wise acting choices provide an appropriately inquisitive nature in Tarzan's character as well as in how he questions his place in the ape tribe when he becomes aware that he is different and doesn't quite fit in among those who raised him. Currie is delivering a strong, solid performance that is a nice balance between the man who is physically imposing and the boy who is constantly playful. His vocals are very good on his many songs, including gorgeous solos during "Strangers Like Me" and "Everything that I Am." Currie also helps form a realistic relationship between Tarzan and his ape family and between Tarzan and Jane, as played by Ariana Latvaaho. Latvaaho does a wonderful job instilling Jane with an always-present sense of discovery and curiosity and her singing voice is bright and clear. The duet Currie and Latvaaho share, "For the First Time," is beautifully sung.
Brianna Morelock brings a huge amount of warmth and heart to the role of Kala, creating many realistic and poignant moments in the relationships Kala has with Tarzan and Kerchak, while also beautifully depicting the strong bond a mother has with her adopted child. Morelock is excellent in the role. Dillon Fifield is strong and commanding as Kerchak, the leader of the apes who is just trying to protect his family; the duet he shares with Morelock, "Sure as Sun Turns to Moon," is genuine and packed with emotion.
In supporting roles, Ayla Grieser is rambunctious and playful as Tarzan's gorilla buddy Terk, John S. Terpin is superb as Jane's bumbling but warm father Professor Porter, and Josh Swedler is fine as the greedy and cocky guide and hunter Clayton, the only real antagonist of the show. Tolan Cottrell and Hannah Lindblade, as young Tarzan and young Terk, respectively, are both very good with a solid stage presence, and Lindblade also has good comic timing.
The scenic design by Stephanie Carpenter uses two large set pieces in the form of trees, rock formations, and a few added elements, plus the gorgeous, atmospheric lighting by Elizabeth Cook to create a fairly effective jungle atmosphere. While some of the costumes, including the elaborate ape designs, are rentals, LeAnn Latvaaho'a new additions are good. Nicole Cottrell's hair and make up designs, which include dreadlocks for Tarzan and face and body paint for the apes, are quite effective.
While Tarzan may not be a perfect musical, with a strong cast and effective production elements, plus a beautiful sense of poignancy set amongst the show's high flying adventure and comical moments, CYT's production is a winner.
Tarzan: The Stage Musical runs through May 30, 2021, at Christian Youth Theater Phoenix, with performances at Cactus Shadows Fine Arts Center, 33606 N 60th St., Scottsdale AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.cytphoenix.org.
Director: Elise Palma
Featured Dance Troupe:
Featured "Creature": Annaliese Saunders