Joe Horton in the title role in The Henegar’s production of TARZAN The Musical. Photo by Niko Stamos.
By KEENAN CARVER
Brevard Culture Theater Critic
David Henry Hwang’s musical “TARZAN” is open now at The Henegar Center. The stage version, produced by Disney, is adapted from the story “Tarzan of the Apes” by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The musical follows the plot used in the Disney film adaptation; Tarzan meets Jane, falls in love, while members of her camp scheme against the gorillas, ultimately testing the loyalty of both. Also, everyone remembers the music by Phil Collins.
The first half of act one is to show Tarzan’s upbringing. Young Tarzan (double cast with Connor DeRoche and Micah Anderson) has to overcome adversities; such as, the affection of his ape tribe and bullying he receives from them. In turn he is saved and introduced to his soon to be best friend, Young Terk (Eric Barnum).
Kala (Mahalia Gronigan) and Kerchek (Joshua Doyle) add an intriguing subplot, and their storyline adds to the heart of the show. In “Two Worlds” and “You’ll Be In My Heart,” the couple croon from their disagreement on how to raise Tarzan, or if they should raise him.
Tarzan (Joe Horton) stirs up the first act during a pivotal number, “Son of a Man,” when he swings onto the stage. If you squint and look behind the wig, you may notice Horton from this season’s “NEWSIES” at TPI and “BONNIE AND CLYDE” at Henegar. The role of Tarzan has been waiting for Horton, as his theatrical background and physical training make him a natural in it.
The Victorian Jane Porter (Corrine Marie) radiates when she enters the stage. Her voice and bubbly energy give the flat character much-needed gusto. Marie even choreographed a dazzling spiral number, using a harness attached to the fly system, which is easily a show-stopping moment.
A show full of heart, a strong ensemble makes Henegar’s production cohesive. The hilarious Terk (Donnie Gethers), riveting Mother Earth (Zamira Marquez), evil Clayton (Rob Kenna), and charming Professor Porter (Paul Grubbs) are all special ingredients to the wild, lively flavor of the production. The Spirit Drummer (Jordan Fuqua) on his djembe as an ensemble member conjures mood, and adds to this flavor.
Many of these actors we’ve seen before on stages all across Brevard, but not like this in “TARZAN.” Vocal Direction by Sarah Germain brought out the best of these actors, and each musical number is clear and purely enjoyable. Choreography by Dixon Bowles is challenging, appropriate for the jungle, and fun.
Designed by Manatee Players, the scenery gives the ensemble work shifting the set. Three multi-level platforms alter into arrangements that allow for wonderful levels. Add special lighting designed by Luke Atkison and unique costumes by Lyric Theatre, you get some great moments.
Though the players and production team gave an endearing show, by the end, there are certain conclusions about the stage adaptation, in particular, that begs to be pointed out.
Relying on stark acrobatics and special effects, the script and score are skimpier than Tarzan’s loincloth. The theatrical retelling of the story is dependent on these elements, and only expand Phil Collin’s original songs, without adding any flare to them. The musical is missing those big, act-ending musical numbers we’re used to in a standard musical.
The musical progresses in waves, much like the ones that brought baby Tarzan and his parents to the jungle island. For instance, it has a vivid introduction, a lightning flash that kills the houselights and starts the projection of the shipwreck. A bold beginning that moves to slower moments, such as Young Tarzan learning to swing, which isn’t a memorable moment it’s so quick. The plot then unfolds from one fleeting moment to the next, which is a humble attempt to rekindle nostalgic moments from the film.The production team faced some challenges in the weeks leading up to the musical, yet Director Dominic Del Brocco and Stage Manager Nathan Dobson know their talent are strong enough to overcome, succeed, and deliver a show full of heart. [Read more about that here.]
In all, come for the nostalgia and Phil Collins, leave knowing there is fantastic local talent in the area. Bring the kids; “TARZAN” is playing for one more weekend at The Henegar Center.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “Tarzan” the stage musical runs through March 24 at the Henegar Center, 625 E. New Haven Ave., Melbourne, FL. Tickets are $19 to $29. Call 321-723-8698 or visit Henegar.org.