Verdict on `Tarzan' is up in the air

Entertaining show not as strong as other Arvada offerings

Clockwise: Brian Oglevie (Tarzan), Andrew Russell (Terk), Shannan Steele (Kala) and Jennifer Lorae (Jane) meet on Arvada Center’s jungle stage in the “Tarzan, the Musical” production. Photo by P. Switzer
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Through a watery scrim, we see a stormy sea and a ship's passengers in serious trouble — they've got our attention.
Quickly, the scene shifts to a jungle, with a variety of interesting sounds and a house on stilts where the storm survivors — mother, father and wee baby — are soon in big trouble again with a sleek, growling leopard (choreographer Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck) sailing through the air.
Only baby survives, tucked in a trunk.
A band of apes swings and lumbers into sight, and it's all about flying from here on — and on and on. Mother ape Kala (Shannan Steele), who lost her baby to that same evil leopard, finds the human baby and takes him home to raise, over the protests of the dominant male, Kerchak (Lawrence A. Curry).
These are singing apes in stylized costumes, cleverly designed by Meredith S. Murphy, in the production of “Tarzan: The Stage Musical” at the Arvada Center.
Scenic designer Brian Malgrave has produced a lush jungle setting for the musical's characters to inhabit. The music is pleasant, but not memorable, and choreographer Hilsabeck worked effectively with the flight director Geddy Webb and director Gavin Mayer to keep everyone moving with the music, whether airborne or not. Many cast members had previous flying experience in other productions.
The book is by David Henry Hwang, whose musical, “M. Butterfly,” was a Tony winner. Rock artist/songwriter and Genesis drummer Phil Collins wrote the music and lyrics for the original Disney animated film, and added more songs for this staged version.
A young Tarzan (Conrad Eck on the night we attended) is confused about who he is in his world and enjoys a friend, sassy young ape Terk (Thomas Russo). Soon he metamorphoses into a conflicted grown-up Tarzan (a buff Bruce Ogilvie). And who should appear on the scene but a Victorian young lady botanist named Jane (Jennifer Lorae), with her scientist father, Porter (Colin Alexander), who thinks like Darwin and hopes for an ape sighting.
The adults in the audience know Edgar Rice Burroughs' popular story and presumably have told their children what transpires so they can follow it despite the constant motion up in the trees.
Singing voices are strong and clear, and lighting and staging are polished as always at the Arvada Center. The material is not as strong and clear as other productions we have seen. But, I'd expect it would make an entertaining family outing — perhaps followed by some tricky swinging on ropes at home. (Children's tickets purchased through the box office are discounted.)
If you go:
“Tarzan: The Stage Musical” plays through Aug. 3 at the Arvada Center, 6901 Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada. Performances: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; 1 p.m. Wednesdays; 2 p.m. Saturdays, Sundays. Tickets: 720-898-7200, arvadacenter.org.