Review: TARZAN at Lyric Stage

Disney favorite hits Dallas stage May 1-21

Cast & Creatives Revealed For the World Premiere of

What makes us human?

Is it our outward appearance - our features, clothing or even language?

Or is it something a bit deeper - a study of what's in our hearts?

In a nod to the nostalgia of the 90s, Lyric Stage explored those questions - and a few more - in its production of Disney's Tarzan.

Director Brandon Mason notes he first saw the 1999 film on a transcontinental flight, only to rewatch it eight more times. For those who also viewed the animated Tarzan, parallels between the film and stage show are undeniable - and certainly enjoyable.

The lush jungle set, brilliantly designed by a team of scenic artists and painters, feels familiar, helping draw in the audience. On one side of a revolving tree is an enclave, a sense of home, and the feeling of belonging. On the other side is the jungle, uncertainty, and perhaps a bit of danger. The very dichotomy of the stage augurs the show's themes of insiders and outsiders, belonging and estrangement, gains and losses.

The duality of the set immediately sets the tone of the show as it opens on two families - human and gorilla. In parallel, we see the graceful, yet predatory, movements of the leopard (Gigi Johnson) take the lives of Tarzan's human parents and Kala's gorilla son. But even as the sadness sets in, Kala finds a "new beginning," adopting Tarzan and vowing to raise him as her own, overcoming the objections of her mate Kerchak. It is the firm yet tender voice of Kala, portrayed by Catherine Carpenter Cox, that reassures us that differences will be overcome, and that two worlds will become one family.

As with the set, an outstanding cast helps portray the push-and-pull of Tarzan's identity. The strong, authoritative voice of gorilla leader Kerchak (Christion Dior Draper) calls into question the human boy's belonging, while a spirited gorilla ensemble teases Tarzan's differences. In opposition is Kala, along with Young Terk (Vivian Martin) and Young Tarzan (Avril Huang/Vera Borges), whose spirited performances show the power of friendship. Later, we see an older Terk (Lexi Nieto) and Tarzan (Esteban Vilchez) use the same bond to overcome their physical differences.

Of course, central to the story is Tarzan's bond with Jane (Mira Agustin Are). The strong and passionate voices of Vilchez and Are illustrate the budding romance between the pair, as Jane gently leads Tarzan to understand more about his human identity. They stand in opposition to Clayton (Keith J. Warren) and his comedic counterpart Snipes (Antavius Draughn). The conflict between the characters challenges audiences to consider what truly separates man and beast.

Tying it all together is a sentimental soundtrack by Phil Collins, including old favorites (You'll Be in My Heart, Son of Man, Trashin' the Camp, Two Worlds, etc.), and new (Who Better Than Me, Sure at the Sun Turns to the Moon, Everything That I Am, etc.). Performed under the direction of Bruce Greer, the music blends seamlessly with the story.

What is the outcome of the story and performance, with the final blackout and curtain call? Which side of the duality prevails? With a reprise of "Two Worlds," Vilchez and the cast suggest you "trust your heart, let fate decide."

Photo credit: Lyric Stage


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From This Author - Korri Romero

Korri Romero is a long-time writer and editor with more than a decade of experience in journalism. She earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Texas at Austin before going on to work wit... (read more about this author)


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