With a colorful chorus of knuckle-walking apes scampering around a vine-covered jungle set, Tarzan the Stage Musical wowed the audience at opening night in an unforgettable performance at the Arvada Center.
Everyone knows the story: a baby boy survives a shipwreck off the coast of Africa, is found by a female gorilla and raised in the wild by her ape family—and then came Jane. The tale has captured imaginations since it was conceived by author Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912 and more recently made popular with today’s generation by the Disney animated film in 1999. The memorable score by singer/songwriter Phil Collins that won him a Golden Globe, an Academy Award and a Grammy made the film a natural to become a stage musical, which it did in 2006 with additional Collins songs. Hits like “Son of Man,” “Two Worlds” and the Oscar-winning “You’ll Be in My Heart” are some of the favorites.
The Arvada Center’s interpretation succeeds in an ambitious attempt at creating the sights and sounds of a gorilla family and its most famous adopted son living in the Congo. Meredith S. Murphy’s chimpanzee costumes are so realistic that, when combined with the chimp chatter of the ensemble, you wonder who let the monkeys out of the zoo. They dart up trees with ease and ride the vines like primate pros.
Young Kaden Hinkle, who studies acrobatics, puts his lessens to good use as a spirited, back-flipping vine-swinging boy Tarzan, a role every child actor would love to play. He gets banned to the darkest jungle by his father and head of the clan Kerchak, who foresees trouble with the boy in their midst. The somber silverback gorilla is masterfully played by Laurence A. Curry, a veteran actor of the Center.
Unquestionably, the star of the show is Brian Ogilvie, a buffed, boyish, lovable Tarzan with dreadlocks and a killer smile. And he can sing, too! As the virile man Tarzan, he wins his father’s respect when he kills the pouncing leopard (Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck) that preys on the tribe.
When unflappable British naturalist Jane Porter (Jennifer Lorae) meets the near-naked athletic ape-man, they are mutually attracted. “All this touching is most inappropriate, but interesting,” she says. Their duet “Different” is one of the best scenes in the play. The theme of love—between children and parents, between friends, and between mates—winds through the story like vines around trees.
After Jane decides to stay in the jungle with Tarzan, Director Gavin Mayer misses an opportunity here to have Jane appear in a loincloth for the finale and reprisal of “Two Worlds.” We know she can’t cavort in the jungle with her man in English city duds, and Jane in jungle jammies would have clinched the deal, even for this fun family entertainment.
Tarzan runs through August 3. Performances are Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesday at 1 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Moderated talkbacks with the cast are Friday, July 18 after the 7:30 performance and Wednesday, July 23 after the 1 p.m. show. To buy tickets, visit https://arvadacenter.org or call 720-898-7200.