top of page

Ambitious and Well-Performed 'Tarzan: The Stage Musical' Soars at Moonlight

by Cassiopeia Guthrie, August 4, 2023

Why walk when you can soar through the trees? A high-flying and high energy Tarzan wraps its three week run at Vista's Moonlight Amphitheater, bringing Phil Collins' score and David Henry Hwang's book to life for the first time as an adult show in San Diego County.

Directed by Jamie Torcellini with music direction by Elan McMahan, the production tells the story of an orphan infant who is adopted by gorillas. As Tarzan grows under the proud and watchful eye of his mother, Kala, and strives to be accepted by his father, Kerchak, he finds small moments that differentiate him from the rest of his ape family. As such, when a research expedition arrives, it is with great curiosity and awe that he interacts with other humans for the first time, including an inquisitive young woman, Jane.

Tarzan hangs from a rope above Terk.
Nathan Dolquist and Jacob Haren in “Tarzan: The Stage Musical.” Photo Courtesy of Karli Cadel.

The show is led by Nathaniel Dolquist as adult Tarzan and Jad Marrewa as his young counterpart, and both actors are exceptional. It is clear that Dolquist has trained rigorously for this role; his physicality, athleticism, vocal lines, and mannerisms are outstanding. Marrewa likewise has a pure and clear voice that soars through Young Tarzan's numbers.

The ebullient Jane Porter is played by talented Margie Mays, a captivating vocalist who embues just the right amount of innocence and awkwardness into the role, in particular in her interactions with loving father Professor Porter (Ron Chrostopher Jones) and villainous security man Clayton (Jackson Marcy), as well as, of course, with Tarzan himself.

Other standouts from the show include Tarzan's best friend, Terk, played with stellar comedic timing by Jacob Haren, a tender and maternal Patricia Jewel in the role of Kala, and a commanding DeAndre Simmons in the role of gruff patriarch Kerchak.

The large adult and youth ensembles include Zane Camacho (Snipes), Capri Castriotta (Mother/Soloist), Jason Webb (Father/Soloist), Danielle Airey (Dance Captain), Josh Alvarez, Jake Bradford, Josh Bradford, Garrett Currier, Wes Dameron, Audrey Gaudet, Colden Lamb, Jodi Marks, Katie Marshall, Kayla Quiroz, Tori Waner, E.Y. Washington, Eli Wood, Bobby Chiu, Andrea Félix, Sarah Gamble, Katherine Graham, Marina Hall, Benji Katzke, David Landis, Ali Nelson, Chloe Oh, Ethan Roach, and swings Austin Ledger and Zoë Marín-Larson, alongside a robust 14-piece band.

Kala and Kerchak hold their new baby, Tarzan, among the gorilla family.
Patricia Jewel and DeAndre Simmons with Ensemble in “Tarzan: The Stage Musical.” Photo Courtesy of Karli Cadel.

Choreographer Ala Tiatia-Garaud does a wonderful job with coaxing this large group into rousing and energetic sequences throughout the production, using a variety of dance styles and aerial elements to create texture and vibrancy in the scenes. There is also a significant presence of flying choreography that supports this multi-dimensional effect as well. Flying sequence choreographer Paul Rubin commands attention immediately with the opening scene and the leopard fight scenes, but the rigs are used liberally throughout the production and really add a sense of wonder and magic to the show as a whole, set on 3D Theatricals' sets, costumes, and properties.

The production is lit beautifully by Jennifer Edwards with mottled and striated effects and a wide range of highly pigmented hues that are both eye-catching, but also help to create the impression of multiple locations within the West African jungle. Jim Zadai's sound design is solid for this production, a challenge which includes a wide variety of cues across the outdoor venue, a large cast, and even an entire song predicated on the noise of various household items being commandeered by a troupe of gorillas, the entertaining "Trashin' the Camp."

Alongside "Trashin'...," fans of the movie will recognize (and likely adore!) other original soundtrack tunes like "Two Worlds," the Academy-Award winning "You'll Be in My Heart," "Son of Man," and "Strangers Like Me." In contrast with these unforgettable pieces, some of the songs that were added to the production in the shift from movie to musical just don't hit the same way, often featuring cliché lyrics. While these shifts extend the exposition, they don't do enough, in my opinion, to give some roles the depth they deserve.

Fortunately, the cast and director have leaned into moments and nuanced movements that allow the family relationships to be centered. It is their hard work as a team that has made this show come to life in a charming and acrobatic rendition of Tarzan that will appeal to a wide range of audience members.

Tarzan runs at Moonlight Stage Productions through August 5.


Recent Posts
bottom of page