Each summer The Tuacahn Amphitheatre and Center for the Arts puts on a “Broadway in the Desert Series” which this year includes the first production of Disney’s Tarzan since it played on Broadway, Cats, which is a repeat due to its popularity, and Crazy For You, the delightful revamped George Gershwin musical. In this my first visit to Tuacahn I saw Tarzan and Cats and had a terrific time.
Tuacahn Amphitheatre is located at the mouth of Padre Canyon below the 1500-foot towering red rocks of Ivies Utah that is adjacent to Snow Canyon State Park. This theatre complex is part of a larger facility that encompasses a school for the performing arts, a smaller 330-seat theatre, a dance studio, a black-box theatre space, a recital hall and the appropriate costume and set building facilities. The staff is committed to the goal of providing family entertainment while also promoting the exposure of high school students to the world of musical theatre. The Amphitheatre was originally built to house the outdoor musical drama Utah, which celebrated the founding of the state of Utah. Overt time the emphasis has shifted to the Broadway musical.
Tuacahn was granted the rights to the Disney musical Tarzan that had recently played in New York. Previously they had been the first regional theatre to present Les Miserables. Disney’s trust in these producers is totally justified because the productions at Tuacahn are fully professional and feature some first-rate talent.
Take the case of Tarzan. The theatre is outfitted with “Flying by Foy’ and the production draws on the expertise of some Vegas professional circus artists to teach the cast the art of aerial flight and action. Most of Tarzan takes place in the air and Tarzan’s entrance from out of the rocks is a sight to behold — pure magic. The cast is lead by a strong character actor/singer from Los Angeles, Sam Zeller, who plays the lead ape Kerchak. Although he is the designated villain of the piece, because he sees Tarzan as a potential enemy, he manages to gain our sympathy as a caring leader ready to defend his family at any cost. When the white hunter kills him, there are many tears shed in the audience.
Much of Tarzan is typical Disney pap including Kerchak’s death, but the show is so well done and so different in that it involves so much gymnastics that you can’t help but be caught up in the action. Zeller is strongly supported by a charming Paton Kemp as Young Tarzan, Jerry Hoffman as the well-meaning Professor Porter, Todd Dubail as the evil Hunter Clayton, Evan D’Angeles as the mischievous ape Turk, Summer Broyhill as the geeky but brave Jane, James Royce Edwards as the hunky Tarzan (he’s funny too), and the lovely Cessalee Stovall as Tarzan’s ape mother. The cast is full of good singers and talented dancers. Scott S. Anderson provides the fine direction.
Speaking of dancers, Cats is the other presentation and is staged in an original way by Derryl Yeager. One of the nicest touches here is to let the actor, who plays Young Tarzan, play Admetus, who echoes Grizabella’s great song “Memories”. The boy has a lovely and strong soprano voice. Grizabella is played by the Tony Award-winning (for Baz Luhrmann’s La Boheme) Lisa H. Seegmiller. And what a powerful performance she gives! Seegmiller is accompanied by others of a stellar cast: Nicholas McGough as Mr. Mistoffelees, Jerry Hoffman as Gus the Theatre Cat, Todd Dubail as the sexy Rum Tum Tigger, Ronald L Brown as Old Deuteronomy (he has a wonderful voice), and Veronica Yeager and Thayne Jasperson as Rumpleteaser and Mungojerrie respectively.
Tuacahn is only a short one-hour drive from Las Vegas and 1-½ hours from Cedar City and its famous Shakespearean Festival. By all means, visit this magnificent location and see some exciting work. I look forward to a return visit. Tarzan, Cats, and soon Crazy for You, will be playing in rep until mid October.