“Tarzan” play a swingin’ good time

Published 10:53 am Friday, May 12, 2017

You don’t have to go to the jungles of Africa to experience the high-flying excitement and primitive joy of Tarzan. You just have to go to Port Neches.

The Port Neches-Groves Theatre Department is presenting “Tarzan: The Stage Musical” at PN-G High School.

According to director Melissa Eyles, the idea for the musical came about as a result of one student’s fantasy casting for “Tarzan” after a theatre competition last year.

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“I thought it sounded cute,” Eyles said. “So, I ordered the perusal script and applied for performance rights.”

Jane, as played by Mady Rogers, investigates the wild, singing jungles of Africa in “Tarzan.” Rowan Faircloth plays the flower at her side. (Lorenzo Salinas/The News)

And before anyone could beat their chests and yell, preparation for the play was under way.

“They thought I was kidding at first,” Eyles said with a laugh.

“I really like the story of Tarzan. It’s the wild man archetype,” PNG senior Ty Riddell said. Riddell plays the eponymous character.

Riddell said he grew up watching “Tarzan,” so it was a really fun role to play for him.

“It gets to explore the parts of humanity that stay within us all,” he said.

Tarzan, as played by Ty Riddell, scouts out Jane’s entrance into the jungle. (Lorenzo Salinas/The News)

High school senior Mady Rogers plays the role of Jane. Rogers had joined the theatre department during her sophomore year due to her love of performing.

“I had done a community show when I was young,” Rogers said. “I enjoyed it a lot — the singing and acting and dancing. It was an amazing way to express myself, and the people I worked with were all wonderful.”

Playing in the orchestra, senior Austin Wiggins is elected band president for the 2016-17 school year. He has been in band since the sixth grade and plays in the trombone section.

“My job is to make sure my guys are in line,” Wiggins said.

Wiggins cited a musical piece during his freshman year entitled “Jungle Dance” that he said helped prepare him for the musical arrangements in “Tarzan.”

“It’s very light,” Wiggins said of the melody.

The “Tarzan” musical also culls talent from more than just the high school campus.

Rowan Faircloth is a student in the fourth grade, and she plays two roles for the play.

“I’m a flower and a baby gorilla,” Faircloth said.

She said her favorite role is the flower because “I get to dance with everyone else.”

“Tarzan” stands as her first play, and probably the first of many according to her.

Ty Riddell (left) is talked down to as Tarzan by one of the British explorers played by William Ntsoane in “Tarzan: The Stage Musical.” (Lorenzo Salinas/The News)

Rogers and Wiggins said they were both familiar with the Disney version of “Tarzan,” with Rogers going one step further to say she watched videos and a Broadway production of it.

“It’s pretty faithful to the (Disney) one,” Wiggins said. “It brings back childhood memories and watching some of it is like remembering (the movie) 100 percent.”

“There’s some new things in it,” Rogers said. “It gives an in-depth look at some parts.”

Eyles said she had only seen one of the early movies before, one played by Johnny Weissmuller of 1930s and 40s Tarzan fame.

“I tried to watch the latest one, but I didn’t like it,” Eyles said, before confessing she had not seen the Disney cartoon one either.

“I didn’t want to color my view with a bunch of other (director’s) versions of it.”

For Rogers, the demands of a musical hold a special challenge compared to regular plays.

“In my opinion, a musical is much harder than a play,” Rogers said.

“You have to focus a lot on the acting, but just as much on the singing and dancing and keeping in time with the band. Every aspect of it is very challenging.”

“The idea of Tarzan that everyone has is that of a very athletic man flying and swinging everywhere,” Eyles said. “It’s that motion and energy, and figuring out how to do that in a live setting.”

Jane, as played by Mady Rogers, tries instructing Ty Riddell as Tarzan on the finer etiquette of tea drinking. (Lorenzo Salinas/The News)

With some of the riskier stunts being left out of the play, Eyles assured that Tarzan would still do arguably his most iconic move — swinging from a vine.

“We did it out of aerial silk,” Eyles said. “(Riddell) is very flexible and acrobatic.”

In addition to feats of athleticism, audience-goers could expect to see colorful and creative uses of scenery and stage design.

According to Eyles, the department used an actual playground set with jungle gyms to replicate some of the latticework of the jungle, as well as sports turf on the stage “because we’re PN-G.”

She said everything that could be seen on the stage was built in house by the students.

“We try to operate on a frugal budget. We don’t want to be ridiculous with the money,” Eyles said.

At the same time, she said the entire venture of organizing and rehearsing for the musical was a learning experience for all involved.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Eyles said. “The kids know to problem-solve. … They know how to work together and to create something beautiful.”

“Tarzan: The Stage Musical” plays on Friday, Saturday and Monday. Each day’s show will be at 7 p.m., except Saturday where a showing at 3 p.m. will also be available.

Tickets are $7 for students and senior citizens; $10 for everyone else. Tickets may be bought at the door or on the school’s website at: http://pnghs.seatyourself.biz.