The cast has been announced and rehearsals are under way for “Tarzan of the Apes” at Western Carolina University. 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.
In announcing the cast, director Steve Carlisle, associate dean of the Honors College, said the annual radio broadcast re-creation involves students, faculty, staff and regional professionals from many walks of life. “The collaboration is incredible,” said Carlisle. “We are working with students, faculty and staff from four different departments and three different colleges on campus, plus professional actors and musicians from the region. This is an incredible collaborative experience for our students to get to cross disciplines and work with all of these wonderful people.”
Behind the complex production is director Carlisle; music director Bruce Frazier, the Carol Grotnes Belk Endowed Chair Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music; writer/producer Don Connelly, associate professor and head of the communication department; and literary researcher Brian Gastle, professor of English.
The group started working on “Tarzan of the Apes” in February of last year. That’s when Connelly 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.
The group received permission to start on the project from Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. in August and Connelly immediately went to work on the script. As sections of the script were completed, they were sent to Frazier to compose and score the entirely new musical underscore for the show.
Connelly said the script is packed with adventure and that aspect creates a huge demand for sound effects and musical underscore. “The script calls for 36 sound effects and 19 pieces of musical underscore plus an opening and closing theme for the show in 60 minutes,” he said. “In addition to the actors, that’s 56 live events that occur in 60 minutes and some of those are simultaneous.”
Assisting Connelly with script details is Gastle. “Brian has all 25 of the Tarzan books and really has a fine eye for the keen points that were so important to the script,” said Connelly.
Frazier is composing an entirely new musical score for the show and will conduct the 50 piece orchestra that features 18 members of the Asheville Symphony, in addition to students and faculty.
“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.” The “Young Prince and Princess,” from the ballet “Scheherazade” by Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov, is choreographed by Karyn Tomczak, assistant professor and program director for dance from the School of Stage and Screen, and will feature three dance students telling the story of the hero and heroine and the mortal combat with Terkoz, king of the apes.
Working with Jon Heely from the Walt Disney Concert Library, Frazier secured the rights to use two major musical pieces. The first piece is the theme from the recent “John Carter” motion picture that was based on one of Burroughs’ early science fiction books.
Frazier also will be performing the signature theme from Disney’s Broadway production of “The Lion King,” “The Circle of Life” featuring vocal soloist Dan Cherry, associate professor in the School of Music.
The cast for the show includes Howard Allman, Nationwide Insurance agency owner and WCU alumnus, as Lord Greystoke; Carlisle as a pirate; Connelly as the narrator; Stefani Cronley, theatre major, as Lady Greystoke and in the role of Jane; Dave Evanoff, assistant professor of analytical chemistry, as William Clayton and in the role of Tarzan; Patrick Hinkle, who works with applications development and data management with WCU’s Division of Information Technology Services, as Professor Porter’s assistant and one of the pirates; Terry Nienhuis, professional actor and retired WCU professor of English, as Professor Porter.
Returning for the fifth year is costume director Susan Brown-Strauss who is designing and selecting the 1930s period-correct eveningwear for the cast. “A network radio broadcast was a very formal event and when done before a live audience in a theatre everyone on stage was in formal evening attire,” said Brown-Strauss.
Carlisle said the show is different than what has been shown in movies and on television. “We went back to the original book and radio serials to tell the story 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 and it is filled with mystery, intrigue and action.”
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. The project also receives support from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Office of Undergraduate Studies at WCU.
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.
Tickets are $10 and proceeds will fund scholarships in participating academic departments.
Advance tickets are suggested and can be purchased at the box office at 828-227-2479 or online at bardoartscenter.wcu.edu. For more information about the show, contact Connelly at 828-227-3851 or firstname.lastname@example.org.