A 1912 piece of pulp fiction by Edgar Rice Burroughs leaves a British baby on the shores of West Africa, growing up securely in the arms of a gorilla, swinging through the jungle and finally landing at the feet of a beautiful young lady, Jane. The original story spawned over 20 sequels. Disney revamped the adventures for a film in 1999 and again for a stage musical in 2004. Nine years later, Tarzan lands at the New Hope Center for the first Pacific Northwest production.
I checked in with New Hope Center’s Creative Arts Director Stephen Kenny about why they chose this script — and how in the world they will pull it off in a renovated church.
“I’m fascinated by the story as well as being a huge fan of the Disney animated film,” Kenny says. “All of my kids grew up watching the movie, and with a musical score by Phil Collins, it’s a huge Kenny family favorite. From power ballads to complex rhythmic orchestrations, Collins’ score has something for everybody.” Kenny also notes, “We are committed to producing family-friendly programming and working with a Disney production is right in the center of that vision.” He believes Eugene is ripe for an influx of good, compelling family theater.
The Broadway version of this show is noted for its extensive acrobatics. Isaac Frank (seen last year as Jesus in Godspell) will be covering the intense physicality and demanding vocals of Tarzan. Kenny says, “Isaac is an amazing performer who is extremely versatile. He’s an acrobat, dancer, actor and a strong vocalist. Tarzan is an extremely physically demanding role, and there’s not very many leading men that can scale a rope hand-over-hand while singing, and then fly across the stage, fight … an intense choreographed leopard fight and then sing high G.” New Hope is also importing Christina Brown of ABC television’s High School Musical: Get in the Picture fame to play the role of Jane.
Like many recent Disney films made into Broadway musicals, the production aspects of Tarzan are enormous. According to Kenny there has been substantial energy put into “costuming, set, acrobatics and swinging ape vines,” and “turning an old church into an African jungle with a 12-piece orchestra … is a huge technical undertaking.” In addition to that, they have to costume 40 apes and build a tree house and build the trees to go with it. Kenny says that with all the swinging vines and movable set pieces, it “will require air traffic control-like precision in making everything get to where it needs to go!”
The New Hope Center is a combination of a college, theater and church. If you think that’s strange, Google the origins of Greek theater and we can have a discussion about the connection between religion, drama and education. With two successful shows under their belt, Tarzan is likely to be a breakout production for New Hope. I look forward to seeing what their future brings.
Tarzan: The Musical runs April 19 through April 28 at the New Hope Center Auditorium, 1790 Charnelton; $15-$18. Tickets are available at www.TarzanEugene.com or 521-0739.