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Theater review: A mother’s love anchors HCTO’s ‘Tarzan’

“TARZAN,” through Aug. 5, Hale Center Theater Orem, 225 W. 400 North, Orem (801-226-8600 or haletheater.org); running time: 2 hours (one intermission)

OREM — Tarzan and Jane may be one of the most famous fictional couples, but in Hale Center Theater Orem’s newest musical, the love between Tarzan and Kala, his gorilla mom, is just as significant.

In fact, much of the first act focuses on the fierce loyalty that Kala, played by Marcie Jacobsen (single cast), shows her adopted son.

And any doting mom in the audience can’t help but think of her kids, asleep at home with Dad and baby monitors keeping watch, when Kala discovers the orphaned Tarzan. But it isn’t just the maternal pangs that make the story worthwhile; Jacobsen’s depth of performance and rich voice provide an anchor to the production.

As Kala raises the younger version of Tarzan, solidly portrayed by Cooper Johnson (W/Th/S), she, like many other moms, puts her dedication to him above all else — even her relationship with her husband and gorilla leader, Kerchak, played by Patrick Kintz (T/Th/S).

But then Tarzan grows up, and the tale turns from sentimental to sedimental, as Tarzan rescues Jane from quicksand not long after she arrives in the jungle. What starts out as curiosity between the prim naturalist and the diamond-in-the-rough ape-man quickly evolves into attraction.

Malia Mackay (T/Th/S) seems effortless in her singing and earnest in her portrayal of Jane. As Tarzan, David Matthew Smith (T/Th/S) has the task of acting, singing, swinging on monkey bars and sporting a loincloth while being brutish, childish and loving all at the same time.

“Tarzan” was mainstreamed in 1999 when Disney released its cartoon version, complete with a catchy pop score by Phil Collins. Collins expanded the movie’s songs for the Broadway version, but the original tunes — like “Son of Man,” “Trashin' the Camp,” “Two Worlds” and “You’ll Be in My Heart” — are the most memorable and fun.

Set in a fabric forest, the production relies on projection and a large, fabric cylinder to carry out some of the more difficult events to portray, such as leopard attacks and an eerily effective family submerged in the ocean. The gorillas’ clever costumes, heavy on fabric and pattern, were coupled with elongated stilt arms, which created a convincing presence on the intimate HCTO stage.

Riding on themes of love, belonging, home and civility, “Tarzan” is like a mother’s lullaby: short, sweet and familiar.

Content advisory: “Tarzan” includes brief violence and brief thematic events. There are a few times Tarzan crosses personal boundaries when he first meets Jane, and there is also an odd moment in which Jane is caressed by a jungle plant.

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.