DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
MARBLE FALLS — When Marble Falls High School choir director Bryce Gage and his students began laying the groundwork for “Tarzan,” their latest production, they faced one major decision.
“Do we make Tarzan fly or do we work around those parts?” Gage said.
In the movie and the theatrical adaptation of the Disney musical, Tarzan swings through the jungle, vine to vine. While professional theater groups — both on and off Broadway — get their Tarzan swinging, it’s not always something a high school production can tackle. And most audiences of a high school play would understand and overlook the non-aerial Tarzan.
“But we decided if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it big,” Gage said.
So when audiences sit down Jan. 23-27 for one of the seven “Tarzan” shows by the school’s choir department, they’ll be treated to Tarzan flying through the jungle. But it’s much more than Tarzan swinging vine to vine, the students and teachers are bringing to the stage one of the most challenging pieces any of them have ever taken on.
And as for high schools, Marble Falls is the only place people will be able to see “Tarzan” on the stage. When Disney released the play, Gage quickly snatched up the rights to it, which means no other high school in the Central Texas area can produce it for a specific length of time.
“This is the toughest show, overall, I’ve ever been a part of,” Gage said. “It’s not just the flying, it’s the acting, it’s the music, it’s pretty much everything about this production.”
Phil Collins wrote all the music for the play and requires it performed in a specific manner. Sometimes, that’s enough to stretch the students.
Then there’s the acting. The play basically tells the story of Tarzan, a human who gets “adopted” by a gorilla family.
“Once we get past the music, how do you take 30 kids and make them look like gorillas but still keep them human enough,” Gage said. “So the kids had to learn how to move like gorillas, which isn’t an easy thing to do.”
And it wasn’t just moving like gorillas, students needed to see the play and the world as if they were those primates. Gage pointed out, in one part of the play, Kala (the mother gorilla who adopts Tarzan) brings the baby back to the rest of the group. Initially, the actors reacted to this human baby with a bit of awe and, well, as humans.
“But we can’t do that, I told them,” Gage said. “I told them they had to react to this baby, this child, as if they were gorillas. Imagine how (gorillas) would act if seeing a human baby for the first time. How would they act? What would they do?”
Choreographer Cristi Gilpin had to develop choreography for the cast that would reflect the gorillas, not exactly an easy task.
“It’s a very athletic show, more than we realized when we started,” Gage said. “One of the biggest thing is just keeping up with the music. There is a lot of of it.”
While it’s definitely been a tough musical to produce, Gage said the students have responded.
“They have really been putting the work in,” he said. “When we picked this play, I thought it was time to challenge the kids, and it has been awesome. They have been awesome. They just have done everything we’ve asked them and beyond. It has been amazing.”
Even parents and community volunteers have stepped in to help. Often, this meant cutting the yards and yards of cloth for the costumes. It takes between eight and 10 yards of Lycra to make most of the costumes and almost 16 yards in some of the more elaborate costumes.
“We have 30 costumes, and, in three hours, they could cut enough for, maybe, two costumes,” Gage said.
Despite all the hard work and volunteers, there was one thing no one on staff or in the immediate circle of friends had: the skills and knowledge to get Tarzan swinging across the stage. So, Gage turned to Hall Associates Flying FX out of the Chicago area.
“They’ll come in and wire the auditorium for us,” Gage said. “Then they’ll train us. It’s a four-day intensive where they come in and show us how to make it all work.”
In the end, the choir plans on producing a musical that audiences won’t soon forget. On top of that, Gage and the students are entering this production in the Long Center’s Greater Austin Musical Theatre Awards.
“It’s like the Tonys but for high school theater productions,” Gage said. “There is a national competition, too, but since this is the Long Center’s first year to hold this one, you can’t advance to the national competition. Still, there’s a lot of scholarships available through the Long Center competition.”
In the Greater Austin High School Musical Theatre Awards, area high schools can enter their production and cast in numerous categories.
Gage said judges will attend one of the performances, and then he must also submit a DVD of a performance.
“There are 20-plus high schools entered from an eight-county area,” Gage said. “It’s pretty amazing because they’ll have an awards ceremony just like you’d see on the Tonys.”
The choir production of “Tarzan” is 7 p.m. Jan. 23-24, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Jan. 25, 2 p.m. Jan. 26 and 7 p.m. Jan. 27 at the Marble Falls High School auditorium, 2101 Mustang Drive. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students. Reservations may be made by calling (830) 798-3664.
“We’re having six shows, which is the most I’ve ever had,” Gage said. “And we have two full casts. It’s a lot of work, but it’s going to be one of the best shows we’ve ever done. This is one of those shows where people will walk away just totally amazed by the kids’ abilities. It’s been an amazing show to be a part of.”