BWW Reviews: Family Fun as TARZAN Swings into Action at The MUNY
Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) got into writing as a lark, musing that he could produce stories that were better than the pulp fiction that was currently on display. Of course, the rest is history, with the prolific author producing a number of memorable series (Tarzan, John Carter, Pellucidar, etc) that are still selling today. His most famous creation, Tarzan of the Apes, became a cultural icon shrewdly marketed in comic strips, novelty items and motion pictures. But, I wonder how the writer would have felt about his hero singing on stage about his conflicts and feelings? Actually, I think he'd be pleased because the story, expanded and slightly altered here and there from Disney's animated film version of Tarzan, still remains true to his original concept (book by David Henry Hwang). And,the MUNY's current production is great family fun that tackles issues of loyalty and love against an action-packed jungle backdrop that cleverly brings to life the creatures that inhabit that world.
The story follows a boy and his parents who are shipwrecked in Africa. The boy's family is attacked and killed by a leopard, who also kidnaps a baby gorilla. The boy is adopted by the apes and raised by them with an acute appreciation for his surroundings. One day an expedition arrives with the lovely Jane in tow. The pair meet and it's immediately evident that sparks will generate between them. In the end, they both must choose whether to return to England or build a life for themselves and their tribe.
Nicolas Rodriguez is a splendid choice for the lead role, with a chiseled, muscular frame, and a voice that matches very well with the material (Spencer Jones does fine work as the younger incarnation). He's nicely paired with Kate Rockwell as Jane, and they explore their dissimilarities as act one closes with "Different". Quentin Earl Darrington (as Kerchak, the leader of the tribe of apes), Katie Thompson (as Kala, the gorilla who takes in the young Tarzan), Gregory Haney (as Terk, a gorilla who befriends Tarzan and teaches him the ways of the jungle), and Nathaniel Mahone (as the younger Terk), all do absolutely splendid work in costumes (by Leon Dobkowski) that allow their expressive faces and voices to shine through, while also presenting them as the animals they are portaying. MUNY vet Ken Page is an always welcome presence, and he takes on the role of Professor Porter with considerable aplomb. Michael James Reed rounds out the cast as the jealous villain, Clayton.
John Tartaglia directs with a sure hand, and he keeps the show humming along at a nice pace. He's aided in his efforts by Chris Bailey's energetic choreography and Rick Bertone's expert music direction (Phil Collins composed the fairly tuneful score). Tim Mackabee's scenic design takes full advantage of the MUNY's vast expanse and natural background to create the right setting, and Seth Jackson's lighting, along with Matthew Young's video design, complement it well.
Check out this excellent production of Tarzan at the MUNY which continues through July 2, 2014. It's a great show for the entire family!