Actors hang upside down, tumble, climb, swing on vines and take on animal like characteristics through creative choreography. With Disney’s Tarzan, The Legacy Theatre has mounted its most ambitious production yet, and it succeeds in creating a production the whole family will enjoy.
Based on the popular animated film, the stage version follows the same plot line with mostly the same characters, and it includes popular songs like “Strangers Like Me” and “I’ll Be in Your Heart.” The musical begins with the shipwreck that leaves Tarzan’s family stranded in the jungle. From that point, the story follows his childhood when he was raised by gorillas, and it ends with is falling in love with Jane, who is on a scientific expedition.
After Tarzan’s parents are killed, he is rescued by Kala (Katie Friedel), and she becomes his mother, raising him alongside the other gorillas. As Kala, Friedel provides an emotional center for the show. Similarly, Kerchak (Daniel Burns), the leader of the gorilla family, becomes a father-figure for the young Tarzan but continues to worry how Tarzan’s presence can threaten the family.
As Terk, Eean Cochran shines as a gorilla who befriends Tarzan and guides him as he grows up. His upbeat attitude and infectious smile win over the audience, creating special moments each time he is onstage. Cochran’s performance in “Who Better Than Me?” with the energetic Sara Short as Young Tarzan is a highlight of the show.
Jeremy Varner delivers a solid performance as Tarzan and handles the physical aspects of the role with ease. As his love interest, the beautiful Jane is Randi Garza, who is the first human Tarzan meets. Varner and Garza display a strong chemistry together and deliver impressive vocals throughout the show.
Along with the adult ensemble, the production also features a children’s ensemble that changes weekly. The child actors fill the stage as gorillas or dancing flowers at any given moment.
In addition to the onstage talent, much of the stunning work has been completed by those offstage; the choreography, the costumes and the set are worthy of accolades. Amanda McGee’s costumes for the gorillas are abstract, while giving the actors just enough appearance that, along with Bethany Smith’s choreography, it is easy to suspend disbelief and see gorillas on the stage.
It’s hard to imagine this show without the towering platforms and vines created by Gary Varner. The set design aptly provides an environment for the actors to move and fully become the characters.
A large drawback to the musical, which includes new songs by Phil Collins in addition those that appeared in the animated film, is the story. The book is just not as well written as the lyrics and score, which may explain why it was one of Disney’s less successful Broadway shows. However, in this production the talent, under the direction of Mark Smith, rises above this aspect to captivate the audience with an entertaining show.
Disney’s Tarzan plays at The Legacy Theatre through August 4, 2013. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The shows run time is a little over two hours plus a fifteen minute intermission.
– A. Wesley