BWW Reviews: CCMT's TARZAN Swings to Stunning Lesher Center Stage

With a cast that seems to come straight from Broadway, Contra Costa Musical Theatre's production of Disney's Tarzan is a visual spectacle. That's what Disney does best: creates magic on stage - at least in what it calls for visually and in its casting.

Although Disney has the immense success of epic stage versions of The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast under its belt, recent Broadway productions of Tarzan and The Little Mermaid haven't done as well. But away from the great white way and critical expectations, audiences come with their children, or with their own child-like hearts, and receive exactly what they want: a fantastically fun production.

The story follows "wild man" Tarzan, whose parents die in a storm, leaving him to be raised by gorillas. Young Tarzan (the extremely talented 6th grader Riley Giadone) has trouble fitting in, and the majority of the first act adds in extra details of Tarzan's childhood not included in the 1999 animated film. Those extra moments seem a bit unnecessary, but make for some touching moments between Kerchak and Kala, the gorillas who raise Tarzan and lead the rest of the family. Maureen Duffey Frentz brings much love and heart to Kala's beautiful solo, "You'll Be In My Heart," and Marcus Klinger carries the weight of the world in his passionate and concerned performance as Kerchak.

Just when Tarzan finds his place in the jungle, a group of his own human kind appears led by explorer Professor Porter (Michael Crozier) and his daughter Jane (the buoyant Anya Absten). Tarzan must rediscover his identity and work out his newfound feelings toward Jane while protecting his gorilla family from mercenary Clayton. Hans Weichart does a formidable job playing the villain, a character thrown in for a quick, anti-climactic resolution. The musical's creators have chosen to follow Tarzan's overall journey, rather than focus on one particular adventure; but don't worry, the production still has plenty of adventure.

James Royce Edwards's own excitement and adventurous spirit shines on stage as he swings from tree to tree in the title role, which he previously played in the regional premiere of Tarzan. Naturally, he also comes with a handsome body and a gorgeous voice. Next to Edwards, Daniel Lloyd Pias displays the standout voice of the production as Tarzan's best friend, Terk the gorilla. Pias sports bright blue highlights to match his upbeat personality and a stylish mohawk courtesy of costume designer Liz Martin.

The remaining ensemble gorillas perform incredible gymnastic choreography by Nicole Helfer in front of a gorgeous jungle set (designed by Kelly James Tighe) that includes dazzling background projections by Eric Scanlon and stunning lighting design by Michael Oesch. Contra Costa continues to uphold itself as an innovative theatre company with each challenging and inventive production. The company's Tarzan cast amazes, but the piecing together of new scenic elements, plus Phil Collins' lovely music and ZFX Inc.'s flying effects, is what makes this production altogether unique and not to be missed.

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