Tonight I saw Epiphany Lutheran Church’s production of Disney’s TARZAN, again. How fun to sit on the opposite side of the stage to see an entirely different perspective of the show.
Epiphany has historically double cast its summer productions. It is a tough balancing act for directors, costumers, and cast, but Epiphany seems to have this routine down to a science.
The show that follows the opening production, or especially, opening night, most generally seems to be set with emotional booby-traps that sometimes clips energy, and focus. I was not surprised that the first thirty minutes of this evening’s performance contained what I’ve always called, POD: Post-Opening Drag. It happens.
Unfortunately, it happened for the other cast which was their opening night. But, POD was short-lived, and due to all the rain we’ve had in the Miami Valley, yesterday, and today, I am betting the super line-up of performers had to slice their way through the rapidly growing jungle foliage.
Did it deter the production?
Not in the least.
This is where clear, firm guidance from a director, and well trained… um… apes, in this case, know how to get disentangled from the jungle vines.
As with last night’s cast, there were several performances that stood out this evening:
Brady Kress, who portrays Jane’s father, Professor Porter, came to me about five weeks before auditions, determined to participate in TARZAN. During the day, Brady is the Walt Disney of Dayton History, serving as the CEO/President of Dayton History at Carillon Park. This man is genius at bringing Dayton’s history to life for all ages, and has an amazing array of interests, and experiences that seem unbelievable at times. Twenty minutes into his first lesson, it was apparent this newcomer to the well-trod theatrical boards was a fine bet for Porter. Over the next few weeks, he proved it over and over. Tonight, making his stage debut, Brady Kress was a damn fine Porter! The father-daughter chemistry between he and Jane was believable, and tender.
One of my favorites to watch on Centerville High School’s stage is Cecily Dowd, tonight’s stage daughter of Brady Kress. Cecily continues to grow as an actress/singer, and tonight, I found her to be especially appealing as Jane Porter. The character demonstrated tremendous resolve, yet a deep compassion for the families of all species, especially, the apes. Several times I wished I was playing the part of Porter just to work with Cecily.
Brady’s eldest daughter, Kate, has been a piano and voice student of mine for several years. Tonight, she went on as Young Terk. Kate, unlike her father, Brady, making his debut, has clocked in a good deal of stage time, most recently as the title role, MULAN, in Town Hall’s Children’s Theatre (and that is another gem in The Valley of Gems!). As always, I was/am proud of Ms. Kate’s hard work, and fantastic performance.
I seem to be typing the name, “Kress,” often, but another Kress family member took to the spotlight in tonight’s cast, as well. Brady’s niece (which makes her Kate’s cousin), Abby, knocked out a superb job as Kala, the ape who takes Tarzan in as her own child. Wow! The older Ms. Kress, who will be a senior at Bellbrook High School, stole my heart in one particular scene, cementing her outstanding performance. Toward the end of Act Two, Kala leads Tarzan to his true origins where he discovers who his real parents were. This is such a powerful, tender moment. While Tarzan is discovering himself, Kala silently expresses the heartache, knowing she will probably need to let go of her adopted son, allowing him to grow as a human. Abby’s agony could be felt thirty feet away. It was magnificent to be that engaged with her character from where I was seated. In many ways, it also reflected the fear we adoptive parents experience when our children turn 18, and are allowed to get in touch with their birth parents. Will they still be ours?
I was really taken tonight with older Terk, played by Kathy Meyer. Kathy, who I believe is the last of the tremendously talented Meyer siblings trio, pounced around the stage with a super blend of energy and talent. “Trashing the Camp,” the rousing opening number for Act Two, where Terk leads the other apes in a cleverly choreographed production number is OUTSTANDING! Kathy is perky, cute, and such fun. I really appreciated her performance.
The one thing I love about twin casts is that I get to see two similar, yet, different characterizations of the same role. Sometimes, there’s a chasm between performances, but for the two Tarzans, it is pretty even. Last night’s Jeffrey Mack, and tonight’s Kean Petrello, each brought something to Epiphany’s Pride Rock, sans Simba & Company, that was similar, but each Tarzan was slightly different in great ways. One offered more facial expressions, and responses, where the other showed it more with his entire body. Each one worked, and each one was strong, and capable of swinging above the crowd in a loin cloth.
Tonight, there was an issue with a costume piece, and poor Kean/Tarzan had a few moments looking like Captain Hook without his hook, as he hand became trapped in the sleeve lining of his suit coat. Again, a smart actor, dutifully trained by a capable director, knows how to handle the moment without making the moment about the wardrobe malfunction. Bravo!
Thankfully, his loin cloth was not the wardrobe malfunction.
There really should be a fraternity for those of us who pranced around in waist wraps/loin cloths on stage! Once upon a time, I was a part of this club wearing an Egyptian wrap, numerous times as Joseph in JOSEPH… and dying on a cross in JESUS CHRIST, SUPERSTAR. I guess when one is younger, modesty is not such an issue… At 50, it is… moving on…
There were so many new items I got to see tonight that I had not noticed last night. In some ways, it was almost a new production. I absolutely love the apes! They crack me up!
I’ve added my thoughts from last night’s production at the end. Other than the second cast making its debut, the remainder of my notes remains the same.
This is a damn fine production!
If you’ve not seen this production of Epiphany’s TARZAN, and you don’t have tickets, get off your jungle butt, and order your tickets, NOW!
Click on this link, NOW, and order your tickets for TARZAN! NOW!!!! <– I’ve gone to the trouble of being user-friendly for you.
Thank you, Epiphany!
THURSDAY NIGHT’S PRODUCTION….
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.
Grab the nearest vine, and swing into this incredible musical jungle.