OREM — It wasn’t uncommon to find 7-year-old Malia Mackay dancing around her living room to the soundtrack of Disney’s “Tarzan."
Sometimes her brothers would join in the performances; sometimes the dance parties would happen while watching the VHS movie. But there was always something about the music that spoke to Mackay.
“I loved the nature of the music: the rhythms and the beats of the drums,” she recalled. “I would listen to it over and over.”
Flash forward a handful of years and now Mackay’s stage has shifted from her living room in Sandy to Hale Center Theater Orem, where she will star in “Tarzan” as Jane — a character she’s grown to love.
“She’s not your typical Disney princess,” said Mackay (T/Th/S cast). “The musical brings out her quirky and nerdy side. She’s looking for connections that she hasn’t had before, and the events in the show turn her life around completely. I enjoy playing a character who discovers what she wants her life to be like.”
Like Mackay, David Matthew Smith, who plays Tarzan (T/Th/S cast), is enamored with the music in the show, the lyrics of which were written by rock legend Phil Collins.
“I love the relationship between Tarzan and Kala, his monkey mom. My favorite part of the show is when I sing ‘You’ll Be in My Heart’ to her,” said Smith, who noted that his first voice lesson instructor, Marcie Jacobsen, plays Kala.
Besides the signing and acting, the role of Tarzan is pretty physically demanding. The production incorporates monkey bars, ziplines and gymnastics rings. Fortunately, Smith said he enjoys exercising and weightlifting.
“What I like best about playing Tarzan is the physical nature of the role,” he said. “I’m always wanting to push myself further, both physically and in my acting. When I heard HCTO was going to produce ‘Tarzan,’ I knew I wanted to audition, and I was really active as I worked toward that goal.”
For Smith, playing Tarzan brings out some personal vulnerability.
“As an actor, I’m supposed to put myself in every role. I’ve been able to do that more with Tarzan,” he said. “I’m not hiding behind an accent or a costume; I’m being me. The biggest challenge is to accept who I am and be brave enough to put it out there.”
Although the Disney movie appeals to children, the musical version is more sophisticated.
“All of us involved with the show have been surprised at what a deep experience working on it has been,” Mackay said. “The audiences will really connect with the themes of motherhood and adoption and the concept of loving and accepting someone who is totally different than you are.”
Smith said that Dave Morgan, the director, wanted to create a grounded approach to the musical.
“The biggest thing he is trying to get from us is focusing on the relationships in the story,” Smith said. “It’s about making connections and realizing that families come in all shapes and sizes.”
Content advisory: "Tarzan" includes brief violence and brief thematic elements.
If you go …
What: HCTO's “Tarzan”
Where: Hale Center Theater Orem, 225 W. 400 North, Orem
When: June 8-Aug. 6, 7:30 p.m.; Saturday matinees available
How much: $22-$24 general, $16-$18 children
Emily Edmonds is an online communications instructor for BYU-Idaho. She is the former editor of BYU's Marriott Alumni Magazine. She has a bachelor's degree in journalism and a master's in mass communications from BYU.