HURRICANE — Hurricane Theatrical’s production of Tarzan, adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs‘s classic story with David Henry Hwang‘s script, brings together the “two worlds” of talent and enthusiasm and makes the audience feel like “one family,” cheering on each character from beginning to end.
The product of a small town community theater, one might be tempted to lower the expectations for this stage version of the play based on the Disney film by the same name. But from the moment the lights went down, the cast at Hurricane Theatrical bounded over any low-level expectations to create a new standard for shows in this company’s future.
Directed by Kyle Myrick, Tarzan tells the story of a boy raised by gorillas after he and his parents are shipwrecked on the shores of West Africa and his parents meet their untimely demise.
Set against this backdrop of sadness comes a story of love, understanding, and what it means to be a family.
From the moment audiences step into the theater, they are taken to another world. The lush, green jungles of West Africa serve as a stark contrast to the dry, red desert just outside. The choice to have the theater dimly lit even before the show opens gives audiences a chance to soak in the jungle sounds and appreciate the set design, though it does make glancing through the playbill rather difficult.
Throughout the musical it is clear strength is a key component to its success. Strength in vocal talent. Strength in chemistry between characters. And physical strength on the part of the apes—and Tarzan himself—all of who spent the majority of the evening bounding around the stage in a squatting position and performing a variety of acrobatics.
Whether it was the jubilant energy showcased in “Trashin’ the Camp,” or, “Son of Man,” the ape ensemble brought the stage to life every time. They didn’t just crawl around on all fours either. Several apes took to the air, swinging above the stage and out into the audience on a variety of “vines”—adding yet another dimension of excitement to the show.
In addition to such a strong ensemble, there were several standout performances, not the least of which was Tarzan himself—both the young and old versions.
Young Tarzan, played by Jack Bearden, gave a youthful exuberance to the opening half of the show. He was able to hold his own vocally in the sweet childlike tones of, “I Need to Know,” and in the lovable, “Who Better Than Me?,” with best ape friend Terk, played by Reece Jacobsen.
Tarzan the adult (played by Neil Dennison) was perfectly suited to the role physically. But when he opened his mouth to sing, it was clear he was not cast simply for his muscular physique. His vocal prowess and the ease with which he handled the role speaks to more experience than one typically finds in community theater.
Equally matched in talent and apparent experience was Janessa Judkins in the role of Jane. Her clear, eloquent way of speaking, coupled with her easy smile and seemingly genuine kindness made for a character that was easy to love.
Speaking of love, perhaps the most endearing element of Tarzan is the multi-layered love story that goes beyond the enchantment Jane feels for Tarzan to include the depth of a mother/son love between Kala (Makayla Klumpp) and Tarzan, father/daughter love with Porter (Paul Nickels) and Jane, and the love Kerchak (Adam Cheney) has for his family, particularly Kala.
Each of these love stories provide an opportunity to see the characters come to life, and to feel of the chemistry between them. Among the several high points are Kala and Kerchak’s duet, “Sure As Sun Turns To Moon,” and Tarzan and Kala’s, “You’ll Be In My Heart.”
Visually, the production offers a veritable smorgasbord. The brilliantly colorful, oversized butterflies and flowers welcome Jane to the jungle in, “Waiting for this Moment,” and the lighting design are just a few examples. Using two side stages also enhanced the visual experience and allowed the show to transition quickly and seamlessly between scenes.
However, there was one visual component that could be toned down just a bit. The face paint on the apes—particularly the ensemble apes—drifted between artistic ape and zombie-like, depending on the lighting of the stage.
Regardless, the story of Tarzan comes to life in the hands of Hurricane Theatrical and certainly leaves a place for the message of the story in every viewer’s heart.