Rhys Gilyeat takes on the physically demanding role of the title character in the Arizona premiere of Disney’s “Tarzan.”
For several weeks, Gilyeat has been training to become the vine-swinging hero for Arizona Broadway Theatre’s production, which opens Friday. The former Chandler resident, who now lives in New York, returned home to the Valley for “Tarzan.”
“It’s an extremely physical and daunting role because I’m constantly climbing, rolling and flying, then I have to sing and act,” Gilyeat said.
Gilyeat said he’s up for the task of portraying one of his dream roles. He and other actors in the show spent a day in “ape boot camp” learning to act like the animals.
“Tarzan” is based on hit 1999 Disney animated film that follows a man raised by apes, who must decide where he really belongs after he discovers he’s human.
The movie featured five songs written by Phil Collins, who wrote an additional nine tunes for the stage adaptation.
In 2006, a Broadway production of “Tarzan” ran for a year but closed due to low ticket sales. But the show has found life since then at regional theaters, including ABT.
Gilyeat couldn’t wait to sink his teeth into the role and believes everyone will enjoy the musical whether they know the film or not.
“The story is pretty incredible and family oriented,” Gilyeat said. “A family can be whatever you make of it as long as they love you.”
The songs of Collins are another reason Gilyeat can’t wait to perform “Tarzan.”
“Phil Collins’ music has a ridiculous amount of heart to it and is pure pop, and you can tell he definitely has his stamp on it,” Gilyeat said.
In addition, Gilyeat and the cast have been working with Flying by Foy for the production. Tarzan will swing from the house in ABT and on stage.
“I’m very excited about getting the chance to fly in the theater and really play on the wonderful set that’s been made for us,” he said.
ABT’s Technical Director Paul Bridgeman designed the set and decided not to replicate any of the ideas from the original Broadway production, which used mostly vines.
Bridgeman used his inspiration from various pictures of jungles and boulders in Payson to create multi-levels on and next to the stage.
“I needed to give our actors something that they could really work with,” said Bridgeman. “This will be like a giant playground for Tarzan and the apes to inhabit.”
“Tarzan” also marks the return of Gilyeat, who has performed consistently in the Valley at a number of local theaters, including Phoenix Theatre and Valley Youth Theatre.
He moved to New York and landed work at other regional theaters around the country. Gilyeat has appeared in several productions at ABT including “The Full Monty,” “My Way,” “All Shook Up” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”
And he’s grateful to be back at ABT in the title role.
“This musical is still fairly new and I never thought I’d have the chance to be Tarzan this soon,” he said. “It’s a big role to fill, but I’m ready for it.”