Judging from the student participation in “Tarzan: The Musical,” which opens Nov. 11 at Mount Desert Island High School, the school’s drama department is ensured a healthy future.
According to the director, Frank Bachman, there are 36 cast members in the Disney film-inspired play.
“That’s as least 10 more than were in “Chess,” Bachman said, referring to last fall’s musical, which he also directed.
Another 20 students are working behind the scenes running lights, controlling sound and ensuring the videos and other special effects for the show go off as planned.
“We’re using more technology than in past shows,” Bachman said.
For example, the opening scene, in which the infant Tarzan and his parents are shipwrecked on a tropical island, will be illustrated through a student-produced video projected on screens at the sides of the stage.
Bachman said he decided upon “Tarzan: The Musical” as the theater department’s annual fall musical in the spring. After “Chess,” which deals with Cold War intrigue, he wanted to stage a musical with wider appeal.
“It’s a great family show,” he said. “I chose it because I always want to do something different than last year’s musical.”
All the songs in the show were written by rock musician Phil Collins, who came to prominence as drummer in the band Genesis before going on to a solo career that included having more top 40 singles that any other artist in the 1980s.
Storywise, the musical basically sticks to the original premise crafted in the early 1900s by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who authored a series of Tarzan books, and furthered through a popular series of Hollywood movies that began in the silent film era. There are, of course, some Disney-fied changes. The young Tarzan is orphaned after the shipwreck and raised by gorillas. Later, naturalist Jane Porter arrives on the island along with her professor father (Jane’s mother in the high school production), who is leading an expedition. She meets Tarzan, and they fall in love. She tries to stop the killing of the gorillas by members of the expedition, setting up a scene where Tarzan must choose between living as an ape or a man.
“It has a strong message of loyalty and family,” Bachman said. “The emotion definitely comes with Tarzan’s interactions with his gorilla parents.”
Two actors play Tarzan. The young Tarzan is Rex DeMuro, a student at the Conners Emerson School in Bar Harbor. Kai Fox plays the grown-up Tarzan.
Fox, in his portrayal, won’t be aping the chest-thumping of movie Tarzan Johnny Weissmuller.
“Instead of macho, we’re playing him as more of a goofball,” Bachman explained.
Other cast members include Thistle Swann as Jane; Abby Kelly as Jane’s mother, Dr. Porter; Zach Uliano as the villainous expedition guide, Clayton; Mary Paola as Kala, Tarzan’s gorilla mother; Emerson Jeffrey as the gorilla Kerchak; Desmond Reifsnyder and Bonnie Snyder as Tarzan’s gorilla siblings; and Jacob Sanner and Carolyn Grabes as Tarzan’s human parents.
The majority of the actors portray gorillas. For these people, Marilee Marchese designed costumes that are “stylized but very effective representations,” Bachman said.
Paola, who also is acting, has designed the makeup for the show.
Set design is by Carlene Hirsch. Grey Burkart oversees the lights and sound. The choreographer is Tami Willis. Musical director Rebecca Edmondson leads the 12-piece pit orchestra. Bronwyn Kortge is the vocal coach.
Six performances of “Tarzan: The Musical” are scheduled for the school’s Higgins-Demas Theater. Shows are at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 11, and Saturday, Nov. 12, and on the following weekend, Nov. 18 and Nov. 19. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 13 and Nov. 19.
Tickets are $10 for adults, $7 for students and seniors and $5 for children under six.