Produced by: Palo Alto Players
Directed by: Patrick Klein
Choreographed by: Claire Alexander
Music direction by: Nick Kenrick
Featuring: Jimmy Mason, Michael D. Reed, Phaedra Tillery, Oliver Copaken Yellin, Jenika Fernando, Daniel Lloyd Pias, Jessica LaFever, George Mauro, Gary M. Giurbino, Kaitlyn Bliven, Suzanna Dinga, Catherine Hsu, Zoey Lytle, John Ramirez-Ortiz, Stacey Reed, Arjun Sheth, Rylan Aburano, Marlowe Ephron, Jayden Fernando, Grace Hutton
Scenic designers: Patrick Klein and Nikolaj Sorensen
Costume designer: Patricia Tyler
Make-up/hair designer: Gwyneth Price Panos
Lighting designer: Edward Hunter
Sound designer: Brandie Larkin
Properties designer: Scott Ludwig
Stage manager: Eric Dippel
Running time: 135 minutes, one intermission
When: September 8 through September 23, 2018
Where: Lucie Stern Theater, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
Tickets: $25-$55. Call 650-329-0891 or visit www.paplayers.org
as staged by Palo Alto Players
"Tarzan" at Palo Alto Players is an infectious feast of fun, fed by the all-in performances of a great cast, and peppered with a slew of sudden jokes that shock extra laughs out of the audience.
All the adults and children in this vastly amusing show seem to be having a great time, especially the apes, who swing on ropes and somersault across the stage at the Lucie Stern Theatre with wild abandon. It's almost as if we in the audience were having fun at the playground, too. (Personally, I haven't done a somersault since the Carter administration.)
Patricia Tyler came up with the wonderful costumes for this show, giving the apes not the full-body suits so often seen on TV and the like, but layers of representative black fringes, helped along with impressive makeup by Gwyneth Price Panos.
Add in the impressive choreography by Claire Alexander and the overall excellent direction by Patrick Klein, and we have a whole family of apes that knuckle-walk and waddle through a fabulous jungle set by Klein and Nikolaj Sorensen.
Michael D. Reed is a force of nature as the biggest gorilla, the leader of the clan, Kerchak. He's huge — he was the monster in the Players' 2014 production of "Young Frankenstein." Surprise: He has a great singing voice, and makes the most of the Phil Collins songs. And he gets some of the best laughs early on with the non-English sounds he makes in dialogue with Phaedra Tillery, who is fabulous as Kerchak's mate, Kala.
The show opens with a terrific projection display of a shipwreck. A British couple manages to protect their baby, but are themselves killed by a leopard, which also kills Kala's baby.
The leopard is played by 13-year-old Grace Hutton, who is menacing and scary as the jungle cat. In an interview during rehearsals, Jimmy Mason, who plays the grown-up Tarzan, said of Hutton, "She is already at such a high level, she's an amazing dancer. … I can't overstate how great she is … graceful but violent." He is right. Hutton is very impressive.
Kala adopts the strange baby, over Kerchak's objections, and there is much fun as young Tarzan, played with considerable athleticism and big smiles by Oliver Copaken Yellin, competes with apes his age, who are stronger than him.
"I am superior to you," says Jenika Fernando as young Terk, while picking her nose.
Daniel Lloyd Pias charmingly, amusingly takes over as the adult Terk, winning over the audience.
Yellin swings to the wings upstage, then Mason swings in as the adult Tarzan. He's been banned from the ape family by Kerchak, but is raised outside camp by Kala anyway. She sings "You'll Be in My Heart," which is one of the better of the songs in this show.
Mason is excellent as Tarzan, with a sculpted, buff body that looks like he has been swinging and running through the jungle all his life (rather than swimming in master classes at Stanford and in New York). Also, he is a very appealing actor and a good singer.
A group of explorers arrive, including Jessica LaFever as the beautiful, bookish Jane, who is very excited to see all the wild flora and fauna, including the beautiful flowers that manage to eat her dress, much to her giddy excitement. Delightful, colorful costume design and choreography in that scene.
LaFever is excellent as Jane. She is, in fact, beautiful, and very talented, bringing humor to her characterization, and a very good singing voice.
When she and Tarzan meet, it's a fun scene. He's never seen another human, and this particular one, in her 1890s underwear, is very interesting. And she's never seen a man that … healthy looking.
George Mauro is fun and appealing as Jane's father, Professor Porter, who wants to see his theories about gorillas supported in the field. Gary M. Giurbino is Mr. Clayton, the nasty guide. Giurbino has a strong presence. He'd been away from the stage for 25 years, then got back to it in 2015, as Miles Gloriosus in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" at Hillbarn Theatre. He's been busy on a lot of stages since.
Mr. Clayton wants to kill or capture gorillas, which — of course — we don't want. He and the leopard are constant threats, even when not on stage.
But, of course, Tarzan will eventually triumph.
The book is by the great David Henry Wang and is good, although much of the exposition happens in Phil Collins's lyrics. Happily, the Players rented good microphones from TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, and the sound design by Brandie Larkin is very good, so it's pretty easy to understand the lyrics.
Nick Kenrick (who was Jerry Lee Lewis in "Million Dollar Quartet" at Players and at Broadway By The Bay) was music director for the 10-piece band, which did a great job, hidden upstage behind some scrims.
This review is late. "Tarzan" closes on Sunday, September 23. Go see it if you possibly can, it really is fun. Get there early and be prepared to do some walking. The parking lot at Lucie Stern Center has been much reduced, thanks to a project to rebuild the Junior Museum and Zoo.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org