Abby Springer of Mesa, playing Young Terk, rehearses a scene with Ava Wright of Chandler, who plays young Tarzan.
Tyler Padjen/Special to the Tribune

There will be plenty of singing – and swinging – next month as Studio 3 Performing Arts in Gilbert presents “Tarzan the Stage Musical.”

About 30 cast members from Studio 3 will perform a Limelight Performing Arts version of the Disney classic.

“Some of the characters are a little bit different,” said Emma England, artistic director for Limelight Performing Arts, owner of Studio 3 Performing Arts.

“One of the characters who dies in the movie doesn’t die in our version,” England said. “There’s also some new songs.”

The musical is about Tarzan’s family shipwrecked on an island. His parents die and mother ape Kala finds Tarzan and decides she wants to raise him since she lost a child of her own.

The story fast-forwards to when Tarzan is coming into contact with humans for the first time, specifically Jane.

“Without giving the ending away, he has to make that decision on whether he wants to be part of the human world or if he wants to stay with his animal family,” England said. “And Jane has to make that same decision, too. You need to come to the performance to see how it ends.”

The music is by Phil Collins.

“I like the music in the show because it can be related to by lots of generations,” England explained. “A lot of different people can fall in love with it.”

This version has many of the same songs as the Disney movie, including the Academy Award-winning “You’ll Be in My Heart” along with “Son of Man” and “Two Worlds.”

“Phil Collins, in general, he’s got a good way of creating these catchy beats that kind of make you feel good,” England added. “So, as you’re watching the show you can really get into it.”

It has been a challenge pulling off the production during the summer months.

“It’s about 10 weeks of rehearsal altogether,” England said. “We did a lot of rehearsal upfront before everyone started leaving on vacation. We have not had a rehearsal yet with the whole cast here. There has always been at least two people gone until the day before opening, when we actually have our entire cast with us.”

In the meantime, videos were made and posted online so the kids could practice at home or while on vacation.   

Another unique thing about this production is that young Tarzan is played by a girl. England said her production company is open to different casting, explaining:

“We believe that age and gender and race and all those things, sometimes there’s flexibility there. We had so many girls audition that were just so talented that we decided we were going to be open. And they all came in wanting to be young Tarzan, which was funny. So, we were like, ‘Sure, let’s do it.’”

There are also understudies for all the roles to give as many kids a chance as possible at having a lead role.

Ava Wright, 10, plays young Tarzan. She attends Chandler’s C T Liberty Elementary School and has been in theater since age 5.

“In past plays, I always auditioned for boy roles because girls roles I don’t fit in because I’m a tomboy,” Ava said. “I’m not a girly girl.”

The role is very athletic, but Ava said, “There are a lot of stunts, but I do enjoy it. They’re pretty hard, but they’re really fun to do.”

“You’re being flipped, you’re being pushed around in some of these acts, and it’s kind of hard to keep your voice without shaking and stuff,” she added.

Ava hopes to make a career out of musical theater one day, noting, “Acting is my life. I love singing. I love dancing.”

Tarzan – or rather the grown-up Tarzan – is played by Connor Brigola, 17, of Chandler, a senior at Hamilton High School. He has been in musical theater for about five years and is enjoying the role of Tarzan.

“It’s honestly really a lot of fun,” Connor said. “It’s one of those roles that you just always want as a kid. You watch the movie and you say ‘I want to be Tarzan. … It’d be so cool swinging on vines, fighting lions and leopards and digging up bad guys and getting the girl in the end.’”

He feels the pressure of having such a big role.

“It’s a lot of stress, but it’s so much fun to be up there singing Phil Collins legendary song ‘Strangers Like Me’ and just trying to do him justice and Disney justice through the show Tarzan and being able to portray that character.”

The reward is the feedback from the audience.

“I love just seeing the audiences faces when you’re up their singing and entertaining, doing what we do best, and just seeing the audience’s reactions whether it be sad, or happy, or when they get scared if something really suspenseful happens,” he said.

While he would love to make a career out of it, Connor plans to major in medicine in college and do a minor in musical theater.

Audrey Coleman, 15, who plays the role of Jane, is a sophomore at Gilbert Classical Academy and been performing since she was 3 and doing musical theater since 7.

“The thing I love about Jane is she has a very strong love for plants and discovering and doing research and stuff like that because she’s a botanist,” said Audrey.

“So, I can relate because I have a love for animals and love for plants.”

Annabelle Skala, 15, a sophomore at Queen Creek High who plays the role of Tarzan’s ape mother, describes her costume as having a lot of fringe that’s “ape like.”

Nicolas Caglia, 19, of Mesa, is starting college in the fall, so this is his last show before moving to New York and attending American Academy for Dramatic Arts. He plays the role of Kerchak.

“I’m Kala’s husband and she brings in Tarzan to the family and I don’t like it since he’s a human and my family was killed by humans,” he explained. “So, I push him away until he gets older and starts proving himself and at the end I finally accept him.”

Young Terk is played by Abby Springer, 10, and a sixth-grader at Mesa’s Barbara Bush Elementary. She started musical theater when she was around 7.

“Young Terk is very confident,” Abby said. “He’s full of himself. He thinks he’s super-duper cool. He thinks he’s strong and better than everyone. He thinks he can do everything. He’s a really fun character to play. And he’s also best friends with the role of young Tarzan.”

Like young Tarzan, Abby also has a boy role. “There weren’t very many girl roles in this anyway,” she said. “I don’t really care what I play. Whether it’s a girl or a boy, it’s still fun just to do it.”

Abby is taking her part very seriously.

“I still have to figure out what a guy would do,” she explained. “I’m watching the guys in there, watching how they walk, watching what they do with their heads, just really weird stuff.”

She has done about a dozen performances in her short career.  

“My favorite part of doing the show is making people happy whether it’s a happy show or not. Making them believe it’s actually you being that person,” Abby said. “I love the people in it and you can just make such good friends because they’re so much like you.”

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