IVINS — I have been looking forward to seeing Tarzan for so long! In part, because Phil Collins has been my all-time favorite, award-winning, singer / song-writer / drummer . . . and more than a few Tarzan soundtracks have been worn out in our home. Also, Tuacahn is currently the only regional theater licensed in the U.S. to produce Tarzan. In fact, this production is Tarzan‘s post-Broadway regional theater debut.
To start the evening—and my first experience reviewing for UTBA—I arrived early to anxiously anticipate the gates opening to avail my first glimpse of the stage as I was sure the jungle would begin to come to life in this desert setting even before it started. To my dismay, the stage was bare and plain. Had I not known what I was seeing, (and with the exception of all the Tarzan memorabilia for sale at the patio kiosks), I would have never guessed which production I was about to see.
After the typical Tuacahn welcome and announcements, the stage lighting starts to dance and flash, the jungle drumming begins, and my heart and adrenalin quickly sync to the beat! Now I’m on board and completely engrossed!
There is a ship mast, almost unnoticeable in the far back hills, which is set in front of the breath-taking Tuacahn red rock mountain backdrop. It begins to sway and then sinks as the raging water floods the stage (an effect Tuacahn is famous for). A shipwrecked mother, father and baby float across the stage and finally lodge on the West African shore as the stage fills with jungle from every angle. The music and drums intensify! Gorillas begin their entrance from cables, bungee cords, and tree tops. They descend from above and dangle only feet above audience members as they twirl and swing and mimic all the primate gestures we watch so often at monkey exhibits! (Kudos to the costumer & choreographer, as I almost forgot these were humans!) A few wild cats (Leopards) prowl the stage on all fours with their glowing eyes. I soon realized that the leopards are an important piece of the storyline—as it’s at their jaws that the parents meet their fate—which leaves the infant abandoned in a luggage chest. He is soon to be discovered by his new primate mother Kala (Cessalee Stovall), who has recently lost her gorilla baby. Kala takes the infant under her protection and brings him into the gorilla tribe and names him Tarzan. It’s this “adopted bond” between a mother and her son that tightens the audience’s heart strings throughout the rest of the story. It’s this same love and bond that is sure to bring tears before the finale.
Young Tarzan (Talon Ackerman) is amazing and becomes my focal point every time he is on stage. He has a beautiful young voice, he can certainly dance, and he does acrobatics like no novice. He is also not afraid of some high flying and swift aerials! (Ackerman will be leaving his Tuacahn family on July 13th to play the role of Michael Banks in the first National Tour of Disney’s Mary Poppins, upon which Payton Kemp will take his place as the young Tarzan.)
One of my favorite scenes is when Young Tarzan is swinging high above the stage from a cable and then flies stage right and exits into a cave in exact syncopation with Older Tarzan who is descending from a high cable from the distant red rock to make his “grown-up entrance”. The audience whispers “ooh’s and ah’s” in concert—and I experience instantaneous chills! Older Tarzan (James Royce Edwards) and his “partner-in-crime” and the clown of the show primate buddy Terk (Evan D’Angeles) share many learning / teaching / bonding moments on stage as they forage the jungle together and often disobey Kerchak (Sam Zeller), Tarzan’s adopted father and Ape tribe leader. Eventually, Tarzan encounters his first human – Jane Porter (Summer Broyhill), a curious young explorer – and both of their worlds transform forever.
Jane attempts to teach Tarzan “human words” as Tarzan smells, touches, strokes and invades personal space looking for bugs in Jane’s beautiful long locks. Jane shows him a slide-show of civilized life back home and Tarzan swings her from trees and takes her home to introduce her to his ape mother. (Jane notices the mother-son bond and is envious because she did not have the privilege of a mother in her life.)
The time eventually comes for the ultimate decision to be made: Will Jane stay or will Tarzan go? It’s a painful choice and I found myself wondering what I would do: stay with the family who raised and loved me or go back to “my kind” and follow the love of my life? Tarzan makes his initial decision and I am upset! I should learn to be patient (you would think I didn’t already know the ending)! Jane must have heard my thoughts and she finally makes the right choice. As Tarzan cradles Jane in his strong arms, they ascend to the back of the upper deck to live happily ever after. Truth? This is where I got bugged that Jane was in her “civilized” dress! I whisper to the woman next to me that I’m disappointed because I feel she NEEDED to come out in her “jungle dress” so we can have confidence that she truly “fit in” with the gorilla tribe.
Again, patience is not my virtue! Don’t fret. Jane soon swings from stage right in her cute jungle ensemble and Tarzan from stage left with his 6-pack and they hang and flip in the middle “as gorillas do” before dropping to the stage for their final bows.
The greatest challenge in this production was the “flying”! Scott Anderson (Director) has often referred to Tarzan as Peter Pan on steroids. After making some additions to their facility for Peter Pan in 2006 and with the engineering talents of Flying by Foy, aerial choreography by Cees de Kok and Cathy Perquin and stage choreography by Mic Thompson, Tuacahn has been able to overcome this difficulty in a thrilling way. In fact, I can only recall one scene where flying did not occur! It was so exciting!
Awesome, awesome performance! Children and old alike will love Tarzan! If you live in Salt Lake, this show is worth the trip! Performances are sold out for June so call soon to book for July – October 15th.