Orange County’s Tarzan: Interview With Lori Atkins
By Kerry Hishon
I was thrilled to find out on Twitter that Musical Theatre Orange County’s upcoming production is one of my absolute favourite shows, Tarzan! I got to chat with Lori Atkins, co-founder of MTOC and producer of Tarzan, all about our favourite ape-man!
I think we can all agree that Tarzan is awesome, but what made your team select Tarzan for MTOC? What about the show made it appealing to you?
In 2014, we had the opportunity to premiere it in Orange County. We were drawn to the story with its themes of family and love, and of course it’s a great timeless adventure.
MTOC has produced Tarzan before, back in 2014. Why did you decide to bring it back?
I’m convinced that one of the things that keeps us in love with theatre, is the desire to do it better “next time.” And because we had been so fortunate to produce it in 2014, we became very intimate with the story. The show has stayed in our hearts and minds, and it just felt like the right time to share it again.
We simply think the world could have a little more love right now. Tarzan is a beautiful tale of acceptance, love, and courage.
Who couldn’t do with more of those in their life? In this case, the message happens to be taught by a family of Gorillas. Perhaps it’s time humanity learns a lesson or two from our non-human friends.
Now that you have decided to bring audiences back to the Congo, how will this version differ from your previous production?
This time around we are taking advantage of more video projection capabilities and talent to highlight specific areas of the story. Interestingly, I never owned any Phil Collins CDs, but I really think that he found a groove while creating the music for this show. After composing music for the animated Disney film, he had a chance to visit Tarzan again – and then some – with the stage version.
Being a drummer at heart, Collins brought enormous percussive energy to the Broadway show. This year, to allow our audience to experience that explosive sound, we are placing live drums and percussion right on stage as part of the scene. In addition, new scenic design and costumes round out the impact of this summer’s upgraded production.
One of my favourite aspects of Tarzan is the physicality and the differences between the movement of Tarzan, the gorillas, the leopard, the creature, and the humans. It can be a lot of fun but also a big challenge for the performers. How are you approaching this? Have your actors been doing any special training?
Oh yeah! We jumped right into training on day 1 of rehearsal called Ape Academy. It was an experience crafted to focus our performers’ minds and bodies in order to leave behind human and cultural conditioning.
The cast were walked through exercises to embrace primal instincts and act out life as Gorillas. In addition, each rehearsal begins with flexibility and stamina training. This show physically demands more of performers since they have to always be standing, sitting, walking, etc as a Gorilla or other animals.
Tarzan’s vine swinging is an iconic moment in the show; as well, in the Broadway production, the gorillas used a lot of flying effects. Will there be any special effects like this in your production?
Interesting question. I think while the Broadway version was breaking ground with its bungee vine flying gorillas, we wanted to embrace the terrestrial nature. They don’t actually swing from vines. I love flying effects in theatre. But have always tried to keep it in the world of not “doing flying for flying’s sake.”
Having said all of that, Tarzan definitely swings from a vine. Plus there are some other flying surprises in the show as well. The first 5 minutes set the tone for the amazing show you are about to see.
What has been the biggest challenge in rehearsals so far?
It’s early, but we would have to say the biggest challenge for our cast is choreography. We are so excited to have our Choreographer (Nom-L Brown) pushing the limits to see what is possible. Let’s just say he has this cast on their toes…
What has been the most fun / exciting moment thus far in the rehearsal process?
Working out the “Trashin’ the Camp” opening has been so cool. We are really leaning into the approach that the Gorillas are discovering their percussive talents as they begin to explore all of the human elements in the camp. Think “Stomp” meets Tarzan. It’s literally going to bring down the house as we open the second act.
The 2018 production of Tarzan features professional gymnasts in the show. Here are two of them stretching and teaching others the form. (Photo Credit: Lori Atkins)
Do you have any actors making their MTOC debuts?
Debuting this year is Joseph Cobbs as Young Tarzan. His voice is pure as gold, and just loaded with natural talent. On the flip side, our adult Tarzan, Jeffrey Bonser, is returning to reprise his role of Tarzan from 2014.
What other projects does MTOC have in the works?
Coming up in December is MTOC’s production of a brand-new, magical, heartfelt musical called Journey to Christmas. This show was created by myself and MTOC’s co-founder, Mitch Atkins, along with our family, in order to provide families a way to experience the holiday in a whole new way. The show opens with a celebration of traditional modern-day family gatherings, and then travels back to the very first Christmas.
This production features Broadway actor Gerry Kenneth (13 The Musical) as Joseph, recording artist Jaalene Deleon as Mary, blues rock guitarist, singer and songwriter Kid Ramos as a featured live musician, and Johnny Ramos as a featured vocalist and guitarist. Two-time Emmy Award-winning lighting designer Matthew Cotter (Dancing With the Stars) will be creating vibrant, stunning, artistic video imagery, with animation support by Colby Nordberg. Journey to Christmas runs December 13-22, 2018, at the PLYUSD Performing Arts Center in Placentia, CA. Tickets are available at www.mtoc.org.
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