Arts & Culture

Classic tale of "Tarzan" at Unity

Disney’s "Tarzan” makes its Central Coast debut with a lively, family-friendly production.

The musical is a stage version of the film, telling the story of Tarzan’s early years as an orphaned human baby who is adopted by gorillas.

As he grows up, he wonders why he is different from his family, and when human researchers show up, he has to decide where his loyalty lies.

Written by David Henry Hwang, with music and lyrics by Phil Collins, the show had a short Broadway run. It just doesn’t have enough substance for a big Broadway production, but it tells a good story that fits nicely into the small theatre at Unity, and the talents at Kelrik Productions give it their usual creative costuming, youthful energy and warm heart to please family members of all ages.

Erik Austin and Sandy Schwarer direct, and Austin choreographs, the enthusiastic cast and ensemble of kids and adults. Lacey McNamara is musical director.

Cody Petit is a lovable Tarzan, hopping and shuffling about as he expresses his confusion about living in two worlds. Dreadlocks and a loin cloth give him the wild man look.

The dialogue works on several levels. The apes speak to each other normally, and the humans do too, but they don’t understand each other’s language. Their thoughts and feelings are expressed in songs, often with dancing by the ensemble. The dancing is all choreographed with apelike moves, and it’s fun for both the dancers and the audience.

Chloe Davis is good as Tarzan’s gorilla mother, Kala, who lost her own baby and loves the boy unconditionally, but her “husband,” Kerchak, whose parents were killed by humans, bans Kala and Tarzan from the rest of the gorilla family. Jeff Larsen plays Kerchak. Although his acting is fine, he is physically miscast as the grayback leader. He is given a tall, brushy black wig to add stature to his slender frame.

Tarzan’s gorilla friend Terk is his lively companion. Both the young Terk (Cascina Caradonna) and the older one (Danielle Mendoza) sing, dance and cavort with comic charm. Cute Sacha Carlson, with wild dreadlocks, steals the stage as the young Tarzan.

The plot thickens when Jane, her father and their two greedy, nasty guides arrive in the jungle.

Tabitha Skanes is delightful as Jane. She is introduced in a colorful number as she discovers exotic botanical specimens — dancers in amazing plant-like costumes. Her discovery of Tarzan and their attempts to communicate are the crux of the plot, as they gradually fall for each other. Skanes is a pro, with a lovely soprano as she sings some nice duets with Tarzan. Nolan Pugh plays her father with a professorial stiff upper lip. Evan Camacho is properly macho and unfeeling as Clayton, the guide who wants to kill the gorillas.

The gorilla costumes are creatively designed black leotards with heavy gray fringes to suggest hairiness without inhibiting the lively, sometimes acrobatic movements of the dancers. Each gorilla has an unruly wig of some sort.

This is an entertaining show, especially for pre-teen kids and their families, fitting well into the family niche Kelrik has created.