What will happen if you have a Broadway actor, a fierce diva, and a host of veteran and young talented thespians? Then what you get is a jungle-full of music and excitement that will keep your emotions swinging in every direction. From June 14 to 29, Disney’s most loved ape man, Tarzan, hollers his way at the Meralco Theater, courtesy of Viva Atlantis Theatricals Inc.
Tarzan the Stage Musical, based on the 1999 Disney film and adapted from the story “Tarzan of the Apes” by Edgar Rice Burroughs, is topbilled by Broadway actor Dan Domenech as the feral Tarzan. Turning Tarzan’s world around as Jane Porter is pop star Rachelle Ann Go, whose first attempt at theater via Disney’s The Little Mermaid was a critical success. Their journey will be brought to life with the help of Calvin Millado as Ketchak, Ima Castro as Kala, Eugene Villaluz as Professor Archimedes Q. Porter and Jeffrey Hidalgo as Terk.
Domenech admits that playing the role of Tarzan is demanding physically. “We are doing run throughs right now. We’re walking around like apes. That takes a lot of work. It’s very athletic. I’ll be doing a lot of flying in the show and it takes a lot of energy out of me.” He is quick to say though that despite the arduous rehearsals, they are all having a good time. Another challenge for him is effectively pulling off the scenes where he gets into ape talk. “It’s difficult to do that and to also feel what you’re supposed to be feeling. It is easy when you’re speaking any kind of language to get into a conversation with someone, and feel what you’re saying to them and feel what they’re saying to you.” The challenge, according to him, is in speaking an unfamiliar language and yet still establishing that connection with the audience.
Despite flying in just days before rehearsal started, Domenech feels at home with the cast. “Oh, it’s great. You know, it’s the same as any other show in any country I’ve ever visited, every place that I’ve been, theatre to theatre, has the same life so I feel very at home here.”
He has been so immersed in rehearsals the past weeks to have much time to explore the Philippines. “My schedule has not allowed me really to experience a lot of things I’d like to experience here so far while the show is on but so far it’s been great, you know. The people, they’re great. The food…oooh. The food!” On his first week here he tried all kinds of Filipino food, including the dreaded balut. “But I had to stop because I’m wearing a bahag so I can’t eat lechon everyday like I wanted.”
If playing Tarzan has its challenges, playing Jane requires Go to maintain a British accent in all her speaking parts. “As suggested by my director, I started speaking to my family with an accent. I know it drove them crazy,” she laughed.
She remains unfazed by the challenge of proving herself again in this musical. “I guess there is pressure but in a good way. I don’t want to compare it with Little Mermaid. I’m really just enjoying this. Jane’s character is different from Ariel. I love her character. She’s more mature. I don’t think about surpassing the success that The Little Mermaid earned.”
Domenech and Go only met for the first time when rehearsals started but felt at ease with each other not long after. This made taking on Tarzan and Jane easier to do. Admittedly though, at first Go felt a little concerned that her co-actor might have such high expectations from a newbie like her, but his good nature helped quell that feeling. “Dan is very professional. He is such a talented guy. When he sings, it’s so effortless. He is also a nice guy, and that made it easy to work with him. He is an amazing person,” Go said.
The New York-based actor returned the compliment. “She’s an amazing person too. She’s not hard to get along with. She’s awesome. She makes me look good. I don’t have to do much work. It’s all her,” he laughs. “We’re having a good time.”
Ace director Chari Arespacochaga takes pride in the talent and professionalism of her actors. She says of her two lead stars, “Dan and Rachelle, they are very professional. They are both amazing. They have good chemistry and they are very generous to each other so their scenes are really great. And you know we keep our atmosphere very light. It’s serious work but it’s a light and warm atmosphere and we take care of each other. I prefer to work that way because eventually I will leave the show to them and they have to take care of the show.”
Children of all ages are bound to enjoy Tarzan The Stage Musical, what with a twist that Arespacocha and her team added a local flavor to spice up the production. “Disney is very open to you creating it your own way, treating it your own way. Our spin on it is our jungle. It’s tribal Philippines. That’s our own twist on it and they love it. They would rather that you do not do it the way it’s been done before,” Arespacochaga disclosed. It would also be interesting to see Tarzan donning our indigenous bahag designed by no less than Eric Pineda, instead of the traditional loincloth that the character is associated with.
You know you’ve got a good show when all the elements are coming together wonderfully. The flying, the swinging on ropes, the incredible costumes and the heart-warming music made specifically for the Broadway musical by singer/songwriter Phil Collins make up all the right ingredients for a fabulous show. But as Arespacocha puts it, “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.”
So bring the whole family and explore the jungle this side of earth as “Tarzan” swings by from June 14-29 at the Meralco Theater. 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.
(This article is also posted at Broadwayworld.com)