Arts & Entertainment

King of the jungle, king of heart

‘Tarzan’ goes deeper than spectacle


When most hear the name Tarzan, the first thing that probably comes to mind is adventure in the jungle, swinging through the vines and battling all manner of tropical danger.

What many may not expect — and what the Arvada Center is making the focus of its production — is the story of the search for family and finding it in unlikely places.

“Tarzan” — which is based on the Disney film, featuring music and lyrics by Phil Collins — will play through Aug. 3 at the center, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 1 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m.

“I wanted to make this production about relationships,” said director Gavin Mayer. “I think if there is too much of a focus on spectacle it can pose a problem — what we’re telling is a family story.”

The Colorado stage debut of “Tarzan” tells the familiar story of a boy orphaned in a shipwreck who washes ashore in west Africa. Reeling from their own losses, the young boy is taken in by a family of gorillas, led by Kerchak (Laurence A. Curry) and Kala (Shannan Steele).

As Tarzan (Brian Ogilvie) comes to manhood, he is forced to find his place amongst a tribe that he doesn’t entirely belong to. When Jane (Jennifer Lorae) and other humans show up for the first time, he is forced to decide between two worlds, both of which he is a stranger in.

“Since he was raised by this tribe he essentially thinks he’s an ape, and he doesn’t really understand why he’s different,” Ogilvie said. “When he lays eyes on Jane, it’s the first human he’s seen and he has an identity crisis.”

Steele, Curry and Ogilvie all said that the physicality of the apes they are playing gets tied into the choreography from Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck, to create very individual and character-based movement.

“I’m like a kid in a playground playing with different ways of movement,” Curry said, while Steele added that the individuality of the dances can be used to create a cohesive whole.

“It’s very near the ground and earthy dance,” she said. “There are times when all our dancing comes together and those moments are extremely important.”

In many ways, Jane is a real fish out of water in “Tarzan,” and while Mayer describes her as the crutch of the story, for Lorae it was important to capture Jane’s excitement about this first expedition.

“This is what she’s always wanted — to be adventurous and have this experiences,” Lorae said. “When she meets Tarzan there is so much she wants to teach him, and there is a lot of learning that goes on between them.”

Ogilvie described the story as a learning tool for people and learning acceptance.

“How do you react to someone who is different from you and what can you learn from each other?” he said.

In the end, everyone is looking for their own kind of family, and Curry and Lorae said that is the real lesson of “Tarzan” — everything in the show blends perfectly to highlight this message.

“We all have a heart, and we’re the same at our cores,” Steel said.

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