Tarzan – the stage musical

‘Tarzan – the Musical’ is based on Edgar Rice Burrough’s 1912 book, ‘Tarzan of the Apes’. The 1999 Disney animated musical adventure became a Tony Award-winner for 42 yrs. old playwright, David Henry Hwang – and the 23 other scriptwriters for the film! The music for the film was composed by rock legend, Phil Collins; his refrain ‘You’ll Be in My Heart’ won several major awards including an Oscar for Best Song. The film cost $130 million to make, but in the cinema, it edged out the year’s biggest earner up until then, Austin Powers’ ‘The Spy Who Shagged Me’. In the end, it made $448 million with another $220 million on DVDs.

This production has the full orchestral backing track.

For one more week of the July school holidays, this fantastic show can be seen at the Koorliny Arts Centre, which in partnership with Laughing Horse Productions Inc Limited and the City of Kwinana, are presenting the season at sensible prices. The three remaining shows are Friday 15th at 7.30, with two shows on Saturday 16th July – a matinee at 2.00 and 7.30. This is an ideal show for children over 7 yrs., especially those who have seen the Disney DVD, and allows them to experience live theatre.

The Scene:          1880 on the West African coast

Set designer and props:                 Adam Salathiel has given us a two-metre-high tree house on each side of the stage, with platforms on the top. There are various levels of rostra acting as a hill or mound. The whole framework and wooden platforms are draped in lianas and ivy. With patches of tropical flowers. On the right of the stage is a small pool with running water where the apes go to wash the fruit before eating it.

Set Builders:        Adam Salathiel, Vaughn Lowe and the cast must have cleared several tropical forests to achieve this impressive appearance. The set was very sturdy as a dozen apes and Tarzan clambered over it.

Lighting Design:                Adam Salathiel had the honour of using the new lighting system. It has dozens of motorised, colour-changing spotlights. Very impressive.

Lighting operator:            Koorliny Arts Centre staff

Follow spot operator:      Breanna Ware has a rare talent. Her accuracy and ability to anticipate an actor’s movement is so important. As many other operators have found when the actor walks out of the circle of light and there is a rush to catch up, these lights are not really ‘Follow’ lights but pre-empting lights.

SPFx design:        Ryan Magee and Vaughn Lowe added to the magic.

Projection design and production:             Vaughan Lowe, Ryan Magee and Cassidy Magee

Sound operator:                Koorliny Arts Centre staff

Stage manager:                Due to Covid, the director was the stage manager.

In the late 1880s, a British couple (Erin O’Brien, Sam Barnett) and their infant son are shipwrecked off the Congolese coast. The adults build a treehouse but are killed by Sabor the Leopard (Emma-Lee Sinclair). Kala (Renée Bickford), a female gorilla whose child was also killed by Sabor, finds the young infant and takes him back to the jungle to raise as her own, naming him Young Tarzan (Hunter Young). Kala’s mate, Kerchak (Neil Young) is not happy but lets her raise him with their nephew, Young Terk (Lalkrishna Rajasekharan).

Years later, Tarzan (Jake Lippiatt) becomes a best friend to Kala’s nephew, Terk (Artemis Lockyer). Because of his body, Tarzan is treated differently. When Sabor returns, Tarzan fights the leopard and gains Kerchak’s acceptance.

Meanwhile, a team of explorers from England, led by Professor Archimedes Q. Porter (Vaughn Lowe), his daughter, Jane (Natalie Winsall), and their hunter escort Clayton (Sam Barnett), are hoping to study the gorillas. Jane accidentally becomes separated from the group. Snipes (Evan Bialas) and a strange creature (Phil Bialas) invade the apes’ camp, but Tarzan comes to the rescue.

Realising that she is human, just like he is, he goes with Jane back to their camp, where Porter and Clayton both take interest in him. The Professor for scientific reasons, whilst Clayton hopes that Tarzan will lead the group to the gorillas Mungo (Amber Salathiel), Moyo (Ash Johnson), Flynt (Marikit Morales), Kago (Saleena), Mamga (Val Geeves) and Gubo (Zita Pereira).

Kerchak’s warns Tarzan to be careful. Will he listen? Will Tarzan return to England with Jane?

Director Adam Salathiel avoided international advice, never work with children and animals. The youngsters – as the apes – were very well-rehearsed. They moved like apes and had great agility. Like Tarzan, they seemed to just leap from metre-high trees with ease. This was a massive show to stage and Adam has pulled the whole production together admirably. For the youngsters coming to see the musical, it had to be filled with magic and not fear. There were sad parts, but the audience left with energetic chatter and smiles.

The musical backing track was supplied by the show’s copyright company, but it was up to Musical Director Natalie Winsall and her vocal direction team of Evan Bialas, Phil Bialas and Erin O’Brien to have songs brought to life by the cast. Rach Gilmour and Sheryl Gale helped with the off-stage vocal backing. The adult solos, especially by Kala, Kerchak and Jane were powerful and moving.

With a large number of young performers on stage, it is essential to have well-practised movements. Choreographer Zoë Jay gave us delightful dance routines that allowed the audience to remember they were watching the apes and not actors dressed as apes. When Covid struck yet again, Zoë was happy to become an ape actor. Gorilla suits are often hot and stuffy, but Costume Designers Sheryl Gale and Emma-lee Sinclair produced the most convincing, effective, and comfortable costumes for the animals. A huge amount of work.
A big challenge but the kids on stage and the audience loved it.