In 1912 “Tarzan of the Apes,” by Edgar Rice Burroughs, was first published in “All Story Magazine” — spawning two-dozen sequels, along with multiple film and comic book adaptations. Now 100 years later, the jungle man himself swings to the stage in “Tarzan,” a musical adaptation of the popular Disney film. After ending a nearly 500-performance run on Broadway in 2007, a revamped and innovative new production hits the Arizona Broadway Theatre beginning today.
“The big differences aren’t really between the stage version and the movie version, they’re between the Broadway version and the regional version,” cast member Maddy Clapps said. “They’ve changed a lot of things that I think made it a lot better. For someone who may have seen the Broadway version and didn’t like it, it’s totally worth it to see this second incarnation because it’s totally different.”
Clapps and Rhys Gilyeat, who play Jane and Tarzan, first auditioned for the show in New York City last winter. Although Clapps is from Connecticut and is just beginning to discover the Phoenix area, Gilyeat is an East Valley native who has performed with Arizona Broadway Theatre in the past.
“Tarzan” tells the story of a young child raised by apes who grows up and falls in love with Jane Porter, who comes to the African jungle to study wildlife. Clapps, who is “surrounded by monkeys” most of the show, says learning her lines was a challenge because her character “just talks and talks and talks.”
Gilyeat, on the other hand, doesn’t find one particular feat to be more challenging than others.
“For me personally, it’s putting all the elements together,” Gilyeat said. “You can do them all separately: learn the music, learn the lines, do the scene work, learn the flying, and then its wrapping your head around all of it and throwing it into one pot.”
The two admit that the flying sequences seemed daunting at first, but with the help of Flying By Foy, they were able to develop a “good rapport” and just have fun with it. This allowed them to spend less time worrying about the technical aspects and more time further developing their characters.
Both Gilyeat and Clapps looked to the original novel for inspiration, and can agree that the story has certainly been “Disney-fied.”
The book is full of “killing of beasts,” as Clapps likes to say, but helped them understand the special relationship that Tarzan and Jane share.
“Learning about Tarzan through those books is very agrestic,” Gilyeat said. “He’s brutal, he’s a jungle creature. It’s nice to be able to get that history and still take some attributes and put them into the character within the Disney version of it.”
Brad York, who is the sales and marketing director for the Arizona Broadway Theatre, admits he did not expect “Tarzan” to be such a remarkable production to watch come alive.
“I don’t think I thought about how interesting it was to do a Disney musical until you realize you don’t get to do Disney musicals because none of them are available,” York said. “How the music builds, and the relationships, and the melodies, and the technical aspects, and the costumes — it’s just such a phenomenon to be able to put together here in the Valley.”
Overall, Gilyeat thinks “Tarzan” is a “brilliant portrayal of just humanity” along with self-discovery. Clapps agrees, and believes audiences may have a more profound experience than they originally anticipated.
“I think that as much as the flying and the spectacle are the big parts of it, I think they’re going to walk away feeling that they were part of a really good story,” Clapps said. “It’s a classic story — it’s been told for so many years, in so many different incarnations. There’s a reason why stories like that have been around for a long time.”
“Tarzan” plays April 20-May 20 at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 W. Paradise Lane in Peoria.
For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.azbroadwaytheatre.com or call (623) 776-8400.
• Patrick Ryan is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a sophomore at Arizona State University.