Tarzan, The Stage Musical at Moonlight Theatre

This Production is Way More Than Just the Animated Film On Stage

A Blog View by Alejandra Enciso-Dardashti

Danielle Airey and Nathaniel Dolquist. Photo Karli Cadel.

I am usually grateful for our vast theatre options in San Diego. I am even more grateful when musicals that are hardly produced, get a new life here. Tarzan, the Stage Musical, in my opinion, is an underrated one. Yes, it is basically the Disney animated film onstage but it cannot be put together just like that. It requires a special set of skills in different creative and histrionic categories. As well as having Phill Collins's score, who wrote five songs for the animated feature in 1999, there are other fun facts attached to the history of this musical. Collins wrote nine more songs for the stage version, and the role of Tarzan was originated by Josh Strickland who also played Tarzan in the German production, and currently -seventeen years after opening on Broadway-, he is reprising the role at Tuacahn Center for the Arts in Utah. This is a demanding part that requires a strong voice and body as well as aerial abilities in order to do the swinging. The key when producing these types of shows is the casting, and Moonlight Stage did a solid job putting together a wonderful company with grace, amazing voices, and great choreography by Ala Tiatia-Garaud, that resulted in a stupendous show guided by Jamie Torcellini's careful and detailed direction that not only entails acting and dancing, but a number of elements like projections and large props that made a true vision of this production.

For people unfamiliar with the story, a couple is doing some research in Africa accompanied by their baby. Tragedy strikes in parallel with a family of apes that is also hit by the same predator in a strongly staged scene featuring dance captain and ensemble member Danielle Airey, showing form, skill, and strength. Kala (Patricia Jewel), the female ape decides to protect the baby and care for him, naming him Tarzan. Kerchak (DeAndre Simmons) the leader of the troop refuses to have a human as it is dangerous. Kala decides to leave for a different part of the jungle and raise her son. Time goes by and a group of researchers comes, amongst them is Jane (Margie Mays) and her father, Professor Porter (Ron Christopher) with a guide and sort of gatekeeper, Clayton (Jackson Marcy) who has plans of his own. Jane runs into Tarzan while exploring and nothing is the same for either of them from then on.
Jacob Haren and Jad Marrewa. Photo Karli Cadel.

Nathaniel Dolquist who plays Tarzan is a natural. Intense, charismatic, and with a fantastic voice. Same with Jad Marrewa playing Young Tarzan. Rarely at that young age, an actor has such a potent and geared voice. It shows that Jad knows his instrument and range, portraying it remarkably as well as his acting and swinging!. There are various duo dynamics within the performance that are charged with emotion and move the audience. The mother-son bond between Kala and Tarzan, both child and grown-up. The chemistry between Patricia Jewel and Jad as well as with Nathaniel, is palpable and just gifts touching moments full of tender love. Margie Mays and Nathaniel Dolquist team up well as Mays is fun, funny, and sweet. They take the audience through their learning journey as well as imprinting the feeling that they are getting to know themselves. The father dynamic between Jane and her dad played by Rom Christopher Jones is short but truly charming, and being that the characters come from London, their accents are on point which shows a lovely team effort with dialect coach Vanessa Dinning.
Jacob Haren as Tarzan's sidekick and at times protector, Terk, is vibrant in his interpretation with cool, sleek moves, in addition to his great singing. I mentioned at the beginning of this piece that Tarzan is underrated because there is more to it than just the "man-ape" reunited with humans situation. It is about family, true belonging, and acceptance. Each character has a journey whereas time is passing, they are also growing and learning -which is not the norm for everybody-. With Kala and the group leader Kerchak, it is about what is better for the group but the dynamic for them as a couple, and DeAndre Simmons gives Kerchak that strength, and authority that rules. Obviously, there is a heavy dose of vine-swinging during the performance and the preparation and strength from these artists stands out also thanks to flying sequence choreographer Paul Rubin who kept it safe and tight.

Margie Mays and Nathaniel Dolquist. Photo Karli Cadel.

Moonlight is an open-air, huge space, and designing light and sound is no easy task. Jennifer Edwards's lighting design marked each key moment accompanying the doses of suspense, reveal, and resolution. One of the things I enjoy the most when going to shows is when the audience is so engaged with the performance, you can almost touch the silence as it is so strong. With this venue in particular that holds a capacity for 2,000 people, seated and lawn chairs included, I believe it is even more complex. So, managing projection and clear sound is not easy. Bravo to Jim Zadai for enduring this sound design work and landing it marvelously.

These productions represent an important opportunity to experience the magic of the performing arts. To see many company debuts, the youth as part of the ensemble, and all the moving parts makes it even more worth it. Another cool aspect is that because of the dynamic of Moonlight, where families can bring their picnic and distribute the space when bringing kids, you see an array of generations which is what theatre needs now more than ever. 

Tarzan is currently running until August 5th with performances at 8:00 p.m. For people who say theatre is expensive, tickets start at $18 dollars with additional discounts for military, seniors, and students. With this, there can hardly be an excuse. 

Click here for more details.

The creative team also includes Peter Herman (Hair & Wig Design), Heather Megill (Costume Coordinator), Bonnie Durben (Properties Coordinator), and Stanley D. Cohen (Stage Manager).

The cast also includes Danielle Airey, Josh Alvarez, Jake Bradford, Josh Bradford, Capri Castriotta, Garrett Currier, Wes Dameron, Audrey Gaudet, Colden Lamb, Jodi Marks, Katie Marshall, Kayla Quiroz, Tori Waner, E.Y. Washington, Jason Webb, and Eli Wood. Austin Ledger and Zoë Marín-Larson are swings for this production.

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