The Wichita Theatre’s “Tarzan: The Musical” takes audiences on a thrilling knuckle walk on the wild side with a troupe of talented actors singing their hearts (of darkness) out, performing fantastic feats of acrobatics, and delivering emotional acting depth in a musical theater adaptation of the 1999 Disney animated film “Tarzan.”
The story begins with Tarzan’s parents (J.T. Schaeffer and Madeline Catron) washing ashore into the wilds of the African jungle with their infant son. Tragedy strikes when a stealthy Leopard (Baxter Swint) kills Tarzan’s parents and the infant son of fearsome gorilla Kerchak (Jim Hall) and his mate, sweet Kala (Mineasa Nesbit). Kala finds Tarzan orphaned, and begins to feel love and joy again after the loss of her own son.
Kala keeps Young Tarzan (Parker Deal) and he grows up among the lively gorillas, but Kerchak never truly accepts him. As ape-man Tarzan (played as an adult by Bryson Petersen) comes across a very different band of primates in the form of scientific explorers Jane (Ashlen Loskot), and her father, Porter (Keith Pond), along with greedy hunter Clayton (Jonathan Schaeffer) and Snipes (John Coraccio).
Tarzan falls in love with the kind and good-natured Jane, and she with him, but can the two find a path to happiness fraught on all sides by the perils of their cultural differences?
Petersen swings (literally, from ropes suspended above the stage) like a natural-born gorilla into the role of Tarzan, and adopts the mannerisms of an ape-man so well that audiences can scarce believe their eyes when they finally see him dressed as a human.
Loskot’s Jane is a perfectly prim, proper, Victorian-era lady, despite her very improper penchant for falling in love with primates. Their moments on stage are endearing, and audiences eagerly identify with these two main characters.
Jonathan Schaeffer deserves recognition for his villainous turn as the greedy hunter Clayton, and Pond endears himself as the lovable scientist and loving father, Porter. Deal, who plays young Tarzan, and Jadon Allen (Young Terk), are up-and-coming thespians with stage presence far beyond their young years. These talented players’ accumulated skill makes it very easy for audiences to escape into the very different jungle world of “Tarzan.”
Hall and Nesbit are also gifted actors and superb vocalists, and their duet numbers, including “No Other Way” and “Sure as Sun Turns to Moon” are among the strongest tracks in the production. Terk (Bayley Hawkins) and the band of singing and dancing gorillas steal the show with their scat-inspired “Trashing the Camp” track, and should be commended for their vocals and challenging choreographic work. They adopt the mannerisms of gorillas so well and to such comedic effect, we forget that they are actually humans just monkeying around.
The set design, staging, and construction are well executed and continue to surprise and delight audiences. Director Chance Harmon and the Wichita Theatre’s production crew deliver an unforgettable theater experience for audiences young and old.
The story of Tarzan, originally conceived by Edgar Rice Burroughs and first published in 1912, has been a beloved tale for generations, because it deals with the drama that unfolds when worlds collide and love crosses seemingly impenetrable boundaries. The Wichita Theatre’s current production allows us to not only experience this classic jungle tale in a new medium, but also to feel the story’s emotional impact like never before.
Performances continue through Feb. 24, with shows at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday.