Monday, April 22, 2013

REVIEW: NHCC's Production of Disney's TARZAN Swings

For the first time in the Pacific Northwest, Disney's stage musical of TARZAN, with music by Phil Collins, comes to Eugene, Ore. at New Hope Christian College.

This classic tale unfolds in early 1900s as a shipwreck leaves an infant orphaned on the West African shore. The helpless baby is taken under the protection of a gorilla tribe and becomes part of their family. When he eventually encounters his first human, Jane Porter, both of their worlds transform forever.​ The musical is based on the popular 1999 Disney film and beloved story by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

​​The show's Grammy Award-winning musical score was written by singer/songwriter/percussionist Phil Collins. TARZAN features the songs from Disney's film like the Grammy Award-winning You'll Be In My Heart, plus Two Worlds [One Family], Strangers Like Me, Trashin' the Camp, Son of Man, I Need to Know and many others as well as new songs written specifically for the Broadway production.
The cast of NHCC's production of Disney's TARZAN.

The Set-Up

Now, understand that, as a Disneyphile, I come into reviewing this play with high expectations. I have seen several professional and amateur productions of Disney stage presentations. (I have seen "The Lion King" several times including at the Pantages in Hollywood; I have seen "Beauty and the Beast" a number of times; and I have seen their world premier of "Aladdin," as well as the mini-musical at Disneyland and other park productions.) Disney wields a controlling hand when it comes to their material with some leeway in consideration of their Disney Jr. adaptions.

That said, I have seen Evergreen High School almost murder "Beauty and the Beast." However, based on the publicity material for this presentation of "TARZAN" I came expecting (hoping for) great things. I was NOT disappointed!

Christina Brown (Jane) and Isaac Frank (Tarzan). Photo provided.

The Cast

Isaac Frank (Stephen in last year's Godspell) fills the demanding physical role of Tarzan. He also plays his own father early on while Tarzan is still a baby. Director Cindy Kenny says, “Isaac is an amazing performer who is extremely versatile. He’s an acrobat, dancer, actor and a strong vocalist. Tarzan is an extremely physically demanding role, and there’s not very many leading men that can scale a rope hand-over-hand while singing, and then fly across the stage, fight … an intense choreographed leopard fight and then sing high G.” [as quoted in Eugene Weekly] I couldn't agree more, he was phenomenal in every way.

Christina Brown, who appeared on ABC television’s High School Musical: Get in the Picture, plays the role of Jane, and does well. As an actor she is strong and energetic, she carries her melodies and harmonies well, though at times she has an annoying squeak, and often talks way too fast. Her physicality and emotions all play well in the space.

Tarzan fights the leopard that killed is parents.
The show is superbly directed by Cindy Kenny (as is the orchestra by Stephen Kenny). There's always a lot going on, never a dull moment, and the show is full of eye candy. Simon Arnold, who plays Snipes, serves as the Assistant Director​. The cast consists of the school's Creative Arts majors with the exception of Young Tarzan and Porter, who are not students.

The primary cast of NHCC's production of Disney's TARZAN. Photo provided.
All performers sing and act well. Simon Arnold's role as Snipes is a small one, but he plays it nicely and with a good accent. He is, perhaps, the only character not required to sing. Christopher Kiriakos does quite well as Terk​, the comic relief of the show. Lauren Taylor as Tarzan’s Mother does nicely in her small role.

Standouts are Natalie Pruett as Kala​. She has an absolutely lovely voice and acts well. Jacob Thiessen as Kerchak​ is nearly her equal as a vocalist and actor. Larry Kenton, who plays Porter, is the show's best performer. An absolutely stunning actor and singer! I have not enjoyed a character so much in a very long time.

Larry Kenton gets made-up.
Isaac Sutherland plays Young Tarzan​ and does well. (Yes, both Tarzans are named Isaac.) While not a really strong actor (he is young) he has a good singing voice and good physicality in a demanding role. Zachary Ropp playing Clayton​ is a strong actor, which is good, because physically he does not suggest the Clayton we know from the film. ​He carries the character well, playing with all the right touches; He's just too skinny and not chiseled enough.

The Show

Isaac Frank as Tarzan in the NHCC production.
The production is absolutely stunning and of highest professional quality. You'd be hard pressed to find a better production--anywhere. Anywhere. The lighting and set are great and the effects are good. The orchestra is outstanding and does not overpower performances on stage. There were up to thirteen open wireless mics in use and not a one was problematic (yes, folks, it can be done). Set changes could have been a tad tighter, but they were not lengthy by any means. Video is used to enhance the onstage action at times, which is a nice touch, but I felt it should have been used (and could have been to great affect) during Strangers Like Me as is the 'magic lantern' in the film. Costumes and make-up are good with the exception of Clayton's blue eye shadow (go with a dark brown). All the dances were a delight.

The set for NHCC's production of Disney's TARZAN.
However, there were a couple problems, one being the entirely unnecessary dance sequence opening act two. While nicely performed by special guests, the Hosanna Dance Studio Dancers, it does nothing to move the story along. I also felt that Trashin' the Camp should have been more visually percussive. The score requires a lot of percussion (being written by Phil Collins) and it delivers, but that number should be performed on stage (like STOMP).

The show debuts new audio and music technology. Moving lights were used effectively as well, but a little haze in the air would have made it nicer and added to the jungle feel.


  • The auditorium, once a church and now a church again when not a performing arts center, is perfect and seats 500. Interestingly, the church forms it's themed sermon series around the shows themes that are performing there.
  • The cast was put on a special 'Tarzan diet' and required to do 'boot camp' workouts three times a week during rehearsals. Many of the cast must perform acrobatically and the roles are physically demanding (climbing ropes, walking in crouched positions, etc.).
  • My niece, Shannon Peet, is the show's Properties Mistress and part of the Stage Crew.

The directors (I met them) were extremely nice people who were very enthusiastic about their program and students and well they should be. An exceptional production! Kudos, standing ovation, encore and hallelujah. Looks like a great school at which to study the performing arts.

One word: GO! (It's worth the drive.)

ONLY ONE WEEK LEFT! For dates, times (and more information about cast members) see our original post HERE.

We posted the cool promo video HERE.

Eugene Weekly article

Also see the production's spiffy official website, which sports more production/publicity photos and a video as well as links to the program and tickets (which are selling out).

​Review by Gregory E. Zschomler
All photos provided. Note: I'm having additional photographs of the set, Porter, etc. sent to me. Please check back midweek; I should have them posted.

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