Tarzan: The Stage Musical | The Muny

Tarzan 75Phil Collins has mad skills when it comes to writing love songs that make you tear up within the first 10 words, but they’re no “Hakuna Matata.”

 

Tarzan 500

Growing up, I saw Disney’s Tarzan a couple of times, but in my eyes, it could not touch my Disney favorites. I always found it to be unsettling, actually, and now I think I know why. Bold statement time: I don’t think Tarzan’s best audience is children, especially in the case of this musical. An animated half-naked wild jungle man is one thing, but a built and extremely attractive real man in a loin cloth encountering an equally attractive woman — who is I must remind you the first human being he’s ever laid eyes on — screams romance and sexual tension.   

Sure there are talking animals, a few silly jokes, and some fun, vine-swinging choreography, but nothing that is going to hold a kid’s attention, especially if that kid is sitting in the back without binoculars. The music isn’t even catchy! Phil Collins has mad skills when it comes to writing love songs that make you tear up within the first 10 words, but they’re no “Hakuna Matata.”

I’m not suggesting that this show isn’t worth seeing! I’m merely advising parents to call up a babysitter for their kids under 12 and enjoy a light and fun night out to themselves. If you want to bring the family, everyone will still have a blast, the little ones just might begin to fuss or doze by nightfall.

For those of you who bypassed the film when you were younger, or never read Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novel upon which it is based, allow me to shed a bit of light in your shadows. Tarzan is an infant when his parents wash up in Africa after their boat overturns. They make a home for themselves in the trees, but his mother and father are quickly killed by a leopard. Gorillas Kala and Kerchak lose their baby to the leopard as well, and when Kala finds Tarzan she decides to raise him as her son. Kerchak struggles to accept Tarzan throughout the entirety of the story, untrusting of his species. Although Tarzan spends his young life trying to be the best gorilla he can, he realizes just how different he is from his adopted family when he meets Jane who has come to study various aspects of his home, including the gorillas. His growing affection for her forces everyone involved to question where their loyalties lay.

I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t scream kid’s story to me. As I watched, my memory of the storyline came back in bits and pieces, but this time around, now that I’m older, I had SO much appreciation for the themes at work here! It’s really such a beautifully gripping story about finding love in the most unlikely places. But because this story seems to be aimed mostly at kids, the storyline is a tad flat, several thematic elements unexplored.

A bit on the cast. Spencer Jones did a marvelous job as young Tarzan. He had a beautiful voice and didn’t miss a beat keeping up with the adult actors who dominate the storyline. It wasn’t his first time at the rodeo either; he appeared last year in The Muny’s performances of “Spamalot,” “Shrek,” and “South Pacific,” so hopefully we’ll continue to see more of him. (I found myself wondering what such a young little actor likes to do backstage in his downtime, and I imagined there must be a laptop or Game Boy stashed away somewhere!). As I alluded to above, adult Tarzan (Nicholas Rodriguez) did not disappoint physically, but nor did he vocally! Rodriguez’s performance was emotion-packed and done skillfully and humorously. I can’t imagine how hard it must be on one’s back to limp around hunched over like a gorilla, but both Tarzans did so extremely naturally. Of course, so too did everyone playing gorillas!

Kate Rockwell played Jane and her strong performance paralleled Rodriguez’s. Rockwell’s subtle English accent was lovely and her ability to speak in Latin without flaw or hesitation was impressive. I loved her strong, sweet vocals, which I believe are well-suited for almost any leading Broadway role. Her gentility of voice very much contrasted that of Tarzan’s gorilla mother Kala (Katie Thompson). While I thought Rockwell had the strongest vocals of the cast, Thompson’s vocals were the most interesting. Her sound is sultry and deep, like Adele. The way she drew out her syllables when singing “You’ll Be in My Heart” made for an original rendition of a classic song. The strain in her voice made the song pull even harder at my heartstrings.

I can’t wrap up this review without extending some much deserved praise to the choreographer Chris Bailey, scenic designer Timothy R. Mackabee, and costume designer Leon Dobkowski. The set design and costumes for this show were the most impressive I’ve ever seen at The Muny. I would have liked to see the gorilla costumes up close, though they appeared to be made out of a mixture of black and gray feathers. Aspects of nature were created with people as well, including grass, flowers, and a large snake. The choreography and costumes in these scenes reminded me very much of “Lion King,” and the way the “grass” flowed and the “flowers” bloomed was so natural and elegant that it was magical to watch.

So whether you decide to bring the kids or wait on that for Seussical, an enjoyable time will be had regardless. Though, I stand by the fact that the story lends itself much more to the adult’s imagination than the child’s. | Megan Washausen

“Tarzan: The Stage Musical” runs through July 2. Visit www.muny.org for ticket information.

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