(Reposted from Thoughts in Kilobytes)
When Viva Atlantis Theatricals announced that it will stage Tarzan The Musical here in Manila, I merely shrugged and thought, “Okay, go ahead.” My interest was sparked more by the announcement on who was playing the role of Jane Porter, and later who shall don the Disney loincloth and swing from tree to tree, hollering ooooo ei oooooo ei oooooo ei oooooooooo.
The characters brought to life
Dan Domenech, a Broadway actor, was a great pick for the title role. Dan was superb in his portrayal of the feral character. He was funny, heart-warming, charming and yes, definitely built well for the part (I can hear women swooning left and right). Despite the role being very physical, he made swinging look so easy and sang as if he was just having a conversation with someone over coffee. Yet the ease with which he tackled the character didn’t take away any of the deeper emotions he had to convey. His scenes with his ape-mother Kala always brought that emotional pinch in one’s heart – whether they were happy or heavy with emotions. Dan and Ima Castro, who took on the role of Kala, were heartwarming to watch as they reminded us about the kind of love that transcends not just race but even linnaean classification.
I did wonder how Dan will be able to successfully pull off the ape-talk but it turned out I was just wasting time in doing so. He knew the challenge of having to communicate half of the time in a language none of us knew, and he did a great job. He looked very comfortable being an ape man, and I’d say was even having fun doing so.
Fresh from her successful debut as Ariel in The Little Mermaid, Rachelle Ann Go gets to play the nerdy Jane Porter who loves to say a mouthful. As if that wasn’t enough, she had to deliver her speaking lines with a British accent. Although she was always fond of speaking with an accent, maintaining it throughout the show was a different story. Not surprisingly though, she was able to pull it off and in such a charming way too. The new darling of Disney musicals was awesome in her portrayal of Tarzan’s love interest. Those kilometric lines delivered with just the right kind of wit, charm and humor belied the fact that this was only her second musical. As director Chari Arespacochaga puts it, Rachelle is indeed a great instinctive actress. Like Dan, Rachelle looked very comfortable and cute as a button as Jane.
Of course, most were curious as to how Dan and Rachelle will jell as they play out the love story between Tarzan and Jane. Well, let me tell you that the chemistry was very potent – whether they were being funny, confused or heartbroken. They definitely tickled me pink in that funny scene of their first meeting. And people said doing comedy was difficult. The two made it look like peanuts here. Then they made you feel the wonder and excitement of new love as they sang For The First Time. The kiss…yes, the kiss definitely took people by surprise when it happened, and made quite a number of hearts skip a bit, including mine.
Ima as Kala and Calvin Millado as Kerchak were truly seasoned thespians who made us realize that man or ape, we all live and love no differently. Ima was exquisite in her portrayal of a wife and mother who was torn between her husband Kerchak’s wishes and her child’s feelings. She made me think about the struggles of a mother between protecting her child and facing the difficult task of telling him the painful truth.
Calvin as Kerchak was convincing as the leader of the pack as he protects his family and makes everyone realize the atrocities that man can do to satisfy his wants and needs. His tough love when it came to Tarzan is something any father (human or otherwise) can relate to.
Playing Tarzan’s best friend Terk was Jeffrey Hidalgo, another singer who successfully crossed over from pop to theater. I really enjoyed his Trashin’ In The Camp. He was amusing as the quite obnoxious ape who had always been there for his friend since the start.
Arnel Carrion as Clayton was also hilarious and convincingly irritating as the foil to the goody-goody tandem of Jane and her lovable father Professor Porter, played by yet another theater veteran Eugene Villaluz. Eugene was endearing as the gentle and understanding father to his vivacious daughter. I truly loved his scenes with Rachelle.
Adding a twist to the costume and set
I have heard quite a few people say that the set was not as dreamy as that of The Little Mermaid but I’d say it’s not suppose to be up for comparison. The stage lit up when the scene called for it, as it did when Jane made her first appearance as she sang Waiting For This Moment. There were enough flying and swinging to keep the kids and kids at heart entertained and the set was good enough to bring a scene to life and yet not be a source of distraction.
The bahag is a nice touch to add a little twist to the usual image of Tarzan in a loincloth that we’ve come to love. I must say though that I love Jane’s classic get-ups more than those that I’ve seen in other Tarzan musicals elsewhere. And thank goodness Dan’s wig made him a gorgeous Tarzan. Glad to see the wig that Rachelle wore for her first pictorial as Jane was replaced with one that turned her into that carefree but still well put together woman.
I also loved the costume and makeup of the gorillas, by the way.
Getting the message across
I remember clearly what director Chari replied when I asked her why people should watch Tarzan. “Ultimately the people should come because it’s so entertaining and it’s a beautiful story about family. It’s a visual treat and there’s a lot of flying but over and above all, what resonated in me when I read it is that the story says that a family could be a family you were born in, the family that raises you, the family you choose. That covers everything, right? It’s a great message done in a spectacular way, and with beautiful music. That’s all the reasons to go watch it – and of course Dan and Rachelle.”
Did it happen for me? Yes.
The tug whenever Dan and Ima interact erased the distinction between man and ape. They brought out familiar emotions that spring from loving and caring for another. Calvin’s booming voice and imposing presence couldn’t have sent his message any clearer: Family always comes first. You can feel his struggle to keep his family safely together and stand by his principles and beliefs. “Animals kill for survival. Man kills for sheer pleasure.” That message he delivered in a way that reverberated in my mind.
While the mother-and-son scenes between Tarzan and Kala were mostly emotionally-charged, the father-and-daughter relationship between Jane and Professor Porter was always sprinkled with humor and an easy-going kind of affection. Eugene and Rachelle were a delight to watch as a father and daughter whose common interests forged a close relationship.
When Tarzan and Jane meet, and their association turned their worlds around, the contrast between the dynamics of their families couldn’t have been more evident. Whereas Tarzan had chosen to stay to prove his love for his adoptive family, Professor Porter was ready to let go of his daughter if it meant her happiness. I will always remember that part when Jane expressed regret in not teaching Tarzan about love, and Professor Porter gently pointing out that perhaps it was he who was teaching it to her.
The chemistry between Dan and Rachelle led me to feel elated when Tarzan decided to go with Jane, and then later felt distraught when he chose to stay after all and Jane eventually had to say goodbye and ship back to England with her father. Both were very effective in weaving around us the magic of falling in love, the sacrifices it entails and the joy of finally finding the one you chose to build a family with.
Ultimately, the concept of family was summed up in the words: Here I have everything. Here you are home. Tarzan made me remember that wherever you feel love, wherever you feel you belong, then you are with family. It also reminded me that a family will always be ready to put each others’ feelings and safety before their own, no matter how painful.
I must admit that I wasn’t really a Tarzan fan before. I haven’t seen the movie (or must have forgotten that I did) but I am glad I watched this one and made me appreciate my family all over again.
Ooo ooo ee eh ooo!
(You still have the chance to swing by the Meralco Theater and catch the last two weeks of Tarzan The Musical. For tickets, call Viva Atlantis Theatricals at 687-5853 loc 661 or 673 / 892-7078 / 840-1187. You may also call Ticketworld at 891-9999 or visit ticketworld.com.ph. Check out www.vivaatlantistheatricals.com for more details.)