Sunday, April 21, 2013

Tarzan—New Hope Christian College—Eugene, OR

The Once & Future Tarzan

This musical, based on the animated Disney film, will play through April 28th.  It is written by David Henry Hwang and music/lyrics by Phil Collins.  The production is directed by Cindy Kenny, choreographed by Jennifer Knight Dills and musical direction by Stephen Kenny.  The school is located at 1790 Chamelton St. in Eugene.  Go to for further information.

The story is adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes.  Burroughs was, along with Verne and Wells, one of the great adventure writers of the past century.  A number of films have been made on this character and it was finally adapted to an animated musical by the Disney team.  They, in turn, developed it for the stage, along with Mr. Collins and Mr. Hwang.  And now it arrives in Oregon, with six new songs added.

For all you tecko-geeks, twitter-tweeters and those who follow the all-knowing Lord, Facebook, you are probably not going to like one of the themes of this show.  That flora and fauna do have something valuable to offer mankind and that maybe a life in Nature’s Wonderland is superior to an existence in a Concrete Jungle.  And, coupled with Love, it is an unbeatable combination.

After a shipwreck, Tarzan’s parents escape to the safety of the jungle, only to be killed by a leopard.  But the Boy Tarzan (Issac Sutherland) is rescued and raised by a kindly mother ape, Kala (Natalie Pruett), who is shunned by her mate, Kerchak (Jacob Thiessen) for this, because the boy is not one of them.  He slowly learns their ways and language with the help of Kala and a goofy friend, Terk (Chris Kiriakos).

But the modern world will force its ugly head upon them in the guises of a kindly, English Professor, Porter (Larry Kenton) and his lovely daughter, Jane (Christina Brown—featured in TV’s High School Musical:  Get in the Picture).  Of course, relative peace will not continue, as another god of the modern world, greed, comes calling.  Clayton (Zach Ropp), the guide of the expedition, sees a way to make money with kidnapping some apes and, perhaps, the ape-man himself, Tarzan (Issac Frank).

After promising to “reform” and become a “proper” Englishman, tragedy strikes and Tarzan is left in charge of the ape tribe.  But True Love has a way of working its magic, so that things can take their natural course.  Burroughs’s story is a lot more complicated than this, but the musical does hit the highlights.

For the most part, the songs/music keeps the story flowing forward.  Only during the butterfly dance number, beautifully rendered by the Hosanna Dance Studio Dancers, does the story take a slight pause.  The songs are all part of the story, taking on an almost operatic quality in storytelling at times.  Some of my song favorites were Who Better Than Me, with the Boy Tarzan and Terk; You’ll be in my Heart, Kala; Son of Man, Tarzan & apes; and the show-stopping, For the First Time, Jane and Tarzan, beautifully sung by both of them.

And one cannot ignore, one of the highlights of the evening, the Ape Dancers, so good that they all deserved to be named:  Brianna Cruz, Millie Freeman, Jasmyn Kahawai, Nora Mercier, Amanda Prussak, Liz Strang, Lauren Talamantez, Signe Tapert, Brittany Torricer, and Rachel Ure.  And one has to give supreme credit for them to the Choreographer, Ms. Dills!  They lit up the show every time they appeared.

In the title role, the person must be athletic, acrobatic, physically fit, a good singer, actor and dancer.  Not an easy bill to fill.  But Mr. Frank is more than up to the task.  He is downright amazing in all these guises.  It was as if Burroughs (and even Disney) was using this actor as a model for the character.  He has a career ahead of him in this field, I believe, if he chooses to pursue it.

As Jane, Ms. Brown is an extraordinary singer.  At times, though, her acting was a little broader than needed to be, for the size of space she was in.  But, other than that, a perfect Jane.  Another favorite of mine was Ms. Pruett, as Kala, Tarzan’s surrogate mother.  She has a beautiful voice and is a terrific actor.  She, too, has star-shine in her future, in my opinion.  And master Sutherland, as the Boy Tarzan, handled his role with ease.  Hopefully he will also continue in this field, to grow and learn.

Also, very impressive, was Mr. Kenton as Professor Porter.  He has an easy-going, natural demeanor onstage that makes you believe everything he does and says.  He has a very good singing voice and his concern for his daughter seemed genuine.  In short, he accomplishes the task of every actor, to find Truth in the character he’s portraying.

All the others actors were very good, and the ape ensemble, very convincing.  There was not a weak person in the cast.  And, for once, the miking worked throughout the show, and the orchestra did not overpower the singers, a rare accomplishment.  Credit must be give to Stephen Kenny, the leader of them, and the Producer of the show.  Bravo!

This is a monumental effort to transfer to the stage.  The Director, Ms. Kenny, must be equals parts traffic cop, interpreter, counselor/consoler/promoter, teacher and the-buck-stops-here person.  Cindy is a wiz in all those departments.  She has managed to translate all these creative fragments into a cohesive production and she does it with class.  It is noted in the program that this is her first foray into the directing spotlight.  I, for one, vote that it not be her last.

And one cannot leave this show without congratulating the Lighting/Stage Designer, Kelly Baum, the Costume Designer, Jonna Hayden and the audio designer, Kyle Anderson.  Quite simply, this production would not have been the success it is, without the talents of these remarkable people, too.

The only regret one should have is that it is only running two weekends.  I would hope they might consider extending the run.  If this is an example of the type of talent and dedication to the Arts that this school has, then I would say it is an example of one of the best  institutions for such training.

Obviously, I highly recommend this show.  If you are thinking of going, get your tickets now, as they are selling out fast.  If you do choose to see it, tell them Dennis sent you.

For another perspective on this show, go to
SW WA Stage & Theater Arts Review,

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