The Western Carolina University group that destroyed the world with “War of the Worlds,” won World War II with “On the Home Front, Nov. 1944,” saved Christmas with “A Christmas Carol,” and threatened to turn everyone into vampires in “Dracula” with their “golden age of radio” recreations have announced their selection for 2013.
Director Steve Carlisle, music director Bruce Frazier and writer/producer Don Connelly have been working on “Tarzan of the Apes.” The show will be performed before a live audience at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, in the John W. Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $10 and proceeds will be used to fund scholarships in participating academic departments.
Last February, Connelly, head of the communication department, approached Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. with the idea for a new 60-minute radio show based on the 1932 radio serials written by “Tarzan” author Edgar Rice Burroughs.
“When I initially spoke with Jim Sullos, the president of the company, he was interested in our academic-based entertainment projects and ask that we submit a portfolio of our work and explain in detail what we wanted to create,” said Connelly. “One thing led to another and I cannot tell you how excited I was when we got the call that the board of directors of the company had approved the project.”
The year 2012 was the centennial year for “Tarzan of the Apes,” and Connelly said that he feels honored to be allowed to adapt Burroughs’ original materials and create a new radio adventure for the jungle hero.
Carlisle, associate dean of the Honors College, said show attendees should not expect to see the Tarzan they have seen in the movies and on television. “Our story spans from when Lord and Lady Greystoke are put ashore in Africa by a mutinous crew until the time when Tarzan and Jane meet,” said Carlisle. “Think of this as the back story, the one that has not been told for 80 years.”
Asked if the audience would be treated to the famous (and trademark-protected) Tarzan yell, Carlisle said, “Of course, we’ve listened to all of the yells from early radio, television and all of the movies and we have a favorite, but I am not talking!”
Casting for the show will include a number of actors to play the unique roles of animals that Tarzan interacts with such as apes and elephants. Carlisle said the actors will not just make animal sounds but will portray emotion and create the animals’ characters.
Frazier, the Carol Grotnes Belk Endowed Chair Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music, is composing an entirely new musical score for the radio show. The focus of the musical underscore to the “Tarzan of the Apes” drama will be centered on Burroughs’ imaginative writing as an example of fantasy and adventure.
“Rather than the typical tribal drums approach to music with a setting in equatorial Africa, my inspiration for the music is the awe and wonderment of the jungle whose canopy is the domain of exotic animals of the wild and the man-creature who is the focus of our story,” said Frazier. “It is a setting that is both majestic and sinister and the music reflects this dichotomy. It is into these surroundings that Jane enters and the story is transformed into one of love and passion.”
The opening of the program, before the broadcast, will feature orchestral masterworks of fantasy and adventure including Richard Strauss’ exciting music associated with the film “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Gustave Holst’s “Mars, the Bringer of War” from “The Planets” – a nod to the popular book “John Carter of Mars” written by Burroughs upon which the 2012 movie was based.
Brian Gastle, the literary researcher for the show, said Burroughs also was the first author to expand his literary works into newspaper comic strips, movies, radio and eventually television.
“As an author, Burroughs is so unique because he was a visionary and was the first author to incorporate himself so that he would have complete control over his creations,” said Gastle. “‘Tarzan of the Apes’ was first published in 1912 and over the past 100 years there is not one element of popular culture that Tarzan has not been a part of worldwide. Everyone knows about Tarzan.”
Gastle pointed out that the annual shows promote collaboration across departmental and college boundaries.
“The fact that we have classes such as those in English and communication working on these productions, as well as students, faculty and staff from across campus and community members from throughout the region, is a testament to the efficacy and significance of WCU’s Quality Enhancement Plan,” said Gastle.
WCU’s QEP, which is titled “Synthesis: A Pathway to Intentional Learning,” is designed to empower students to integrate knowledge and skills from their interdisciplinary academic and co-curricular experiences to become intentional participants in their own learning.
“Tarzan of the Apes” is the fifth in the series of “academic-based entertainment” projects organized in collaboration with four departments and three colleges at WCU under the leadership of Carlisle, Frazier, Gastle and Connelly. Each of the shows in the series hearkens back to the golden age of radio, featuring a live orchestra and sound effects and performed only once before a live audience in the Bardo Arts Center. The group has won four national broadcasting awards for its unique projects.
All of the participating departments contribute to the project, which receives support from artist-in-residence funds from the College of Fine and Performing Arts in partnership with the Asheville Symphony Orchestra and Carol Grotnes Belk Endowment.
Show attendees are encouraged to arrive early to see lobby displays and student works associated with the show. The performance starts promptly at 7:30 p.m., and no one will be admitted after it has started.