Epiphany Lutheran Church.
Disney’s TARZAN, the musical.
This was my first TARZAN expedition. In fact, I’ve never even seen Disney’s animated feature. I know it must’ve come out around 2001 or 2002, because one of my newly adopted sons referenced his own adoption to Tarzan’s adoption in the animated movie.
Despite the fact that Disney stages phenomenal productions of their animated movies, I still remain slightly skeptical. In fact, when I was working on a major project in New York City in 1997, the producer bought me a ticket to the fairly new BEAUTY & THE BEAST. I dreaded going, thinking it would be more like Chucky Cheese with music. According to my colleagues seated with me, my back stopped touching the chair by the end of the prologue, and I had completely invaded the space of the two guests seated in front of me during, “Be Our Guest.”
This Epiphany production of TARZAN contains 10 of my private students – several in principal roles, and a number of friends and colleagues in the cast, crew, and orchestra.
The cast is outstanding. This production, as in previous Epiphany productions, is double cast. Since I will be attending a second production to see the other cast perform, I just want to offer a Tarzan-yell shout out to Centerville graduate and Wright State University bound freshman, Justin Mathews, as Kerchak, Jeffrey Mack as Tarzan, Rachael Woeste as Jane, and my student who sings “the human invasion” solo, Mia Bridgman. Super work!
The entire cast is tight, talented, very character driven, and energetic. I was seated in the back where I observed a number of cast entrances and exits always conducted without ever losing character. Impressive.
The orchestra, nestled backstage, has a beautiful blend, and a perfect balance. To achieve this oft difficult challenge, I’ve always believed it goes beyond basic musicianship, incorporating a strong sense of theatrical understanding and artistry. They certainly have the right artists on this job.
And supreme artistry is evident in almost every other aspect of this musical expedition.
I only recognized a handful of my own students on stage. Why? Well, the costuming was adorable, and a majority of the cast was cleverly disguised as apes. For over a week, I’ve been hearing stories of especially fast costume changes, and from what I observed tonight, there was certainly a great deal of fast changing – including make up – backstage.
Matthew Benjamin never fails in creating further theatrical illusions, and beauty with his lighting plots. More and more, I’ve become enchanted with lighting design. I do not wish to do it myself, but because of artists like Matthew, my enjoyment, and especially, my respect, has been greatly deepened. I believe my directing mentor, Joshua Logan, who often worked with Broadway lighting guru, Jo Mielziner, would heartily applaud Matthew Benjamin’s artistry.
Epiphany generously brings its audience closer to the heart of the story by using a thrust stage. The set is a huge, fun junglized jungle gym complete with a slide, rock stairs, ladders, a climbing net, a bridge, and swinging ropes. This is a director’s blocking playground!
A professional flying system was installed for this production. Even though I’m aware of, and understand theatrical magic, it was still exciting to see actors flying and swinging overhead.
Two years ago, I was so enchanted with Epiphany Lutheran Church’s production, JOSEPH & THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT, directed by Megan Wean Sears. There are times I dread attending this musical due to my extensive connection in the title role for 29 productions, and as director for 15 productions. I attended this particular production three additional times.
Megan’s exciting expeditionary leadership through this musical jungle of TARZAN is energizing. With the exception of Joe Deer, Stuart McDowell, and Greg Hellems, three extraordinary Wright State University musical theatre directors, Megan is unlike most area directors and gets the job done like a true professional.
So often I attend local productions, only to leave slightly agitated that so many directors miss many obvious, minute items. I have difficulty grasping how these wonderful opportunities can be missed, and in some cases, there are absolutely no excuses for mishandling directing responsibilities.
But this is certainly not the case with Megan. While some less experienced directors might be envious of her success, especially her intense attention to detail, I’m cheering it on.
The performing arts arena is horribly competitive. Sadly, it’s a vicious jungle filled with jealousy, and backbiting. Due to Megan’s solid professionalism, I’m sure she has her envious detractors, but even colleagues who are not as adept could never deny she knows her stuff, and knows how to use it.
Megan’s productions are like a grand ballet that incorporates all the wonderful components of each artistic genre from the performing arts. The pictures, though staged, always appear free of the director’s hand. Unlike so many directors – the Wright State contingent excluded – Megan does not leave characterization to chance. The characters in this vehicle are 3-D, and quite lovable.
I thought it was an absolute hoot to see so many talented performers taking such great pride in executing the personalities and behaviors of jungle apes. When they pound the stage floor, grunting and yelping like real apes, I am howling!
The energy is strong, and even during the quieter moments the pacing does not lag, and the energetic undercurrent is always felt. There are several moments when all the apes are on stage that it feels like it’s PLANET OF THE APES on musical steroids, supplemented by Red Bull.
It’s really an incredible feeling!
Do not waste time in ordering your tickets. Make Jane Lane’s job much easier by hopping on the website to order your tickets. There’s no reason for you to miss this production.