Outside of its original run on Broadway ten years ago, the musical version of Disney’s “Tarzan” only surfaced with a few regional American productions and a handful of international runs. However, that all changed for Chicago audiences when NightBlue Performing Arts Company kicked off its tenth anniversary season with the area debut of the show based off both the animated movie of the same name and Edgar Rice Burrough’s “Tarzan Of The Apes.”
This edition of “Tarzan” also makes for an extremely affordable, family-friendly afternoon or evening of live theater, ripe with animal instincts, human emotions, and ultimately, a desire to bridge the gap between the primal and the personal.
Currently in residence at Stage773, “Tarzan” features music by superstar solo artist (and sometimes Genesis front man) Phil Collins, plus a book by Tony Award winner David Henry Hwang. Though the company doesn’t have the blockbuster budget as say “The Lion King” or “Aladdin” to mount the obscure by comparison piece, director/choreographer Kevin Bellie, musical director Michael Kaish and scenic designer Bob Knuth make the most of their resources, while the cast allows their qualified voices and passion for their parts (many of whom juggle several) to carry the darker but nonetheless redemptive tale of an orphaned boy raised by gorillas in West Africa.
Both the child Tarzan (Jean-Eduard Rodriguez) and his young adult likeness (Jomar Ferreras) pour their all into the physically demanding role, plus his adoptive parents Kerchak (Jordan DeBose) and Kala (Khaki Pixley) ace the extremely delicate balance of behaving like animals and also communicating with the audience in spoken dialogue. That human connection continues when Jane (the immediately likeable Rachel Juncker) enters the picture with her researcher father (the warm Garrett Haley), who are intent on proving there are many similar behaviors shared amongst people and the curious creatures.
Of course, they never expect to find a mixed bag of a guy like Tarzan in their wildest dreams, but as they befriend the one-of-a-kind character, they quickly discover additional evidence for their progressive theories. It’s just such a shame not everyone on their crew feels the same way, resorting to a heart-wrenching standoff that forces the main man to decide between forgiveness and revenge, along with staying with his family or jumping on a ship with Jane.
All the while, the storyline is propelled by the movie’s signature songs, along with exclusives to the musical, though many from the latter category are mediocre compared to say the Academy Award-winning ballad “You’ll Be In My Heart” or the rhythmically bright “Two Worlds,” “Son Of Man” and “Strangers Like Me.” That’s not to say the semi-retired Collins wouldn’t be capable of completely commanding the Broadway stage in the future, he probably just needs more practice to match the consistency of his rock and pop career.
Even so, NightBlue finally gives longtime fans of the flick and man behind the music a chance to finally see it all come to fruition and they do a commendable job pulling all of the elements together. This edition of “Tarzan” also makes for an extremely affordable, family-friendly afternoon or evening of live theater, ripe with animal instincts, human emotions, and ultimately, a desire to bridge the gap between the primal and the personal.
NightBlue Performing Arts Company’s presentation of “Disney’s Tarzan: The Stage Musical” continues at Stage773 through May 13. For additional details, visit NightBlueTheater.com.