BWW Review: TARZAN at Hale Center Theater Orem is a Realistic World of Wonder
Hale Center Theater Orem's production of TARZAN is a realistic, emotive depiction of the well-known story.
TARZAN (music and lyrics by Phil Collins, book by David Henry Hwang), based on the popular Disney film, tells Edgar Rice Burroughs' tale of a boy raised by apes in the jungles of Africa. When a father-daughter team of scientists arrives to study the flora and fauna of the area, Tarzan learns for the first time that there are others like him in the world. He must decide whether he belongs with the family who raised him or with the one he is quickly falling in love with.
The theater's exciting new turntable stage is put to good use here, along with a veritable jungle gym of gymnastic equipment that works splendidly to tell the story in the space. Bobby Swenson and Cole McClure have incorporated these well into their simple but striking scenic design. The colorful lighting design by Cody Swenson is subtle but often breathtaking. Joining with them to create a world of wonder are the African-inspired costume design by MaryAnn Hill and hair/makeup design by Janna Larsen, with fascinating gorilla design by Nat Reed.
The show's opening is exquisite, with projections, scrim, and lighting that bring a shipwreck to life on the small stage. When Tarzan's parents, who moments before were on the brink of drowning, are left coughing on the beach, the audience feels as if they are there with them. When they hear just the hint of opening number "Two Worlds" steal into the background before it swells, they know they are in for something special.
Along with many unique choices, director David Morgan brings a darker edge to this production, including more mature content than usually associated with a Disney musical. While still appropriate for families, this is more PG-rated than the typical G-rated take on the material. In a testament to both the direction and the performances, the acting is raw and real, which brings soul to the naturalistic interpretation.
It does, however, seem that the performers were directed to emphasize acting over vocals at the expense of the stunning score, which is unfortunate. A substantial amount of speak-singing and de-emphasizing of tone and timbre, along with sound design that heavily accentuates the instrumentals over the vocals, leads to music that does not shine as it should.
Still, the actors are very praiseworthy-especially Andrew Robertson (double cast with David Matthew Smith) as a tender, strong Tarzan and Tierney Bent (double cast with Malia Mackay) as a willful, compassionate Jane.
The trio of Mark Pulham (double cast with JD Ramey) as Porter, Marshall Madsen (single cast) as Clayton, and Andrew Walsh (single cast) as Snipes is perfect in every way. Incredible interpretations all around--though to be fair, these roles rarely or never sing.
Marcie Jacobsen, single cast as Kala, brings pathos and motherly affection in both her acting and singing.
Equity actor Angela Chatelain Avila gives her all as Terk. The non-traditional casting, in a return to the characterization of the animated film, sometimes works wonderfully but sometimes less so due to the way the part is written.
Other standouts include the clear-voiced Cooper Johnson as Young Tarzan (double cast with Kaden Patterson) and the wry Dan Frederickson as Kerchak (double cast with Patrick Kintz).
TARZAN plays through August 6, 2017. For tickets, call the box office at 801-226-8600 or visit www.haletheater.org.
Photo Credit: L-R Andrew Robertson (Tarzan) and Tierney Bent (Jane). Photo by Suzy Oliveira.