REVIEW- Tarzan – Children’s Musical Theatre San Jose

I’ll admit I wasn’t initially sold on the story of Tarzan. The story, made into a full stage musical (based on the Disney movie version with songs by Phil Collins) performed at the average to smallish sized Montgomery Theatre in my mind was a potentially cheesy and overly ambitious undertaking. The mere concept made my mouth scrunch up suspiciously and my brow go wonky with quandary as I tried to imagine if this production taken on Children’s Musical Theatre San Jose’s alums, would end up as dessert or disaster. As it turns out this was a sweet production with plenty of rich hues, full notes, and delicious talent.

The cast of this production was honestly out-of-this-world. Strong performances, beautiful voices, wonderful chemistry from every cast member, they brought it, 110%. The entire ensemble was committed to every moment and aside from stellar voices and emotion, I was seriously impressed with the high-caliber choreography paired with outstanding and capable dancers. Kudos also to an orchestra that seemed flawless, so much so that I almost forgot they were live.

Colorful sets, costumes, extensive scenery, more lights and lighting queues I’ve seen in ages, made this a super intense visual spectacle. All the eye candy we would expect from Disney and CMTSJ to be sure, but it was almost too much in places for the performance space. Scene changes were strained in places with large platforms squeezing past each other and wires getting caught as well as stage hands visible in the wings ruined some of the illusion. I wondered if it couldn’t be scaled down just slightly to make for smoother transitions.

My maternal instinct kicked into overdrive during most of the aerial wire work and some of the acrobatics got awfully close to the edge of the stage. Though I’m sure the kids in the audience didn’t gasp from nerves, there were several parents that almost had to shut their eyes when kids (or adults) flew over the audience or were spun about on the shoulders of other actors so near to the orchestra pit.

Aside from the fear factor, due to the confines of the theatre I felt the aerial stunts were ultimately limited and became more mechanical than magical than I’d have liked. There wasn’t a tremendous amount of distance to travel vertically or horizontally and so many of the actors were left dangling awkwardly above the stage. It was hard after the initial novelty of the flying to ignore the distraction that was the actors strapping themselves in to the visible safety harnesses. There were few attempts to mask or disguise wires or harnesses and the payoff for me was a bit of a draw. Half the aerials could have been cut in my opinion and it would have made for a smoother production of a story that is quite beautiful, moving and has a wonderful message for families; families of every size and origin.

Of all the technical challenges the sound provided the biggest bummer of the lot. The performance was plagued with spotty sound issues, mics cutting in and out, and inconsistent volumes. I felt for the actors as they sang their hearts out only to have notes lost to anyone past the first three rows. Frustrating to be sure for audience and cast alike and it’s those types of snafus that sadly taint an otherwise great show.

In the end I think the results were deserving of a 4 out of 5 jewels in the tiara for a show that kids probably enjoyed more than worry-wart adults. With the talent that CMTSJ attracts (both of the child and adult variety) I’m very much looking forward to the next Marquee production, 9-5 in April as well as the upcoming children’s productions.

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