Contra Costa Musical Theatre is flying high with a spectacular production of David Henry Hwang's "Tarzan." From scenic design to choreography to costumes to performances, CCMT and director Jasen Jeffrey have put all the elements together to create a jaw-dropping experience for the audience.
And, then there's the flying. Thanks to ZFX in Huntington Beach, Tarzan and others swing up to 20 feet above the Hofmann stage, and in Tarzan's case (James Royce Edwards) perform acrobatics along the way.
Kelly Tighe has outdone himself (and that's saying something) with a stunning set that combines both hard scenery and video projection to create an African jungle.
An enormous 24-foot-high tree anchors the design, the trunk of which is a well-muscled, approximately 12-foot-tall man. Waterfalls project off the back wall, gorgeously lit by Michael Oesch with imaginative sound design by Some More Sound.
Liz Martin adds her own creative touches with a plethora of versatile gorilla costumes and period pieces, not to mention wonderful character makeup.
Choreographer Nicole Helfer has put together some amazing, extremely physical dance sequences. Based in African hip hop, the movements energize the audience as the young athletic performers (who as monkeys are often on their knuckles and knees) flip and leap across the stage and up and down the tree.
Thanks to the talents of musical director/conductor Matt Smart, his well-honed musicians never miss a beat as they bring Phil Collins' music to life.
Given the physical demands of this show, the actors really have their work cut out for them, and they do not disappoint. Not only does the entire cast wow the audience with the physical demands of the show, but they also create multidimensional characters, adding a surprising depth to the musical.
Edwards reprises his role of Tarzan having played the legendary character in Disney's regional premiere of the work. A versatile performer, Edwards incorporates the naiveté and physicality of Tarzan into much more as he matures and falls in love with Jane (beautifully performed by an enthusiastic Anya Absten).
Sixth-grader Riley Giadone plays the Young Tarzan with style in his Lesher Center debut.
"Tarzan" also marks the return to the stage of Maureen Duffey Frentz. Frentz (then known as Duffey) entertained local audiences 15 years ago before leaving the area to tour in the Third National Tour of "Les Miserables."
Having recently moved back to the Bay Area with her family, Frentz brings her gorgeous voice and superior acting chops to the role of Tarzan's ape mother.
Marcus Klinger as her husband Kerchak has no problem going toe-to-toe (or in this case, knuckle to knuckle) with Frentz as he creates the sensitive-yet-tough leader of the apes.
Not to be missed, "Tarzan" runs through Nov. 10, at Walnut Creek's Lesher Center for the Arts. Call 925-943-SHOW (925-943-7469) or go to www.lesherartscenter.org.
Also opening this past weekend was the world premiere of Min Kahng's "The Song of the Nightingale" at Alameda's Altarena Playhouse. This amazing young playwright is also a talented performer (last seen in Contra Costa in Danville's "Reel Blondes"), musician and composer.
He has taken this well-loved children's tale and created a fanciful musical with wonderful melodies and lots of complexity to appeal to the adults in the audience as well as delight younger theatergoers.
The large cast features Deedra Wong as the Nightingale who, along with director Christina Lazo, choreographed the piece, and Lindsay Hirata as the beautifully voiced Mei Lin, the servant girl who brings the songbird to the Emperor of China, a devastatingly funny DC Scarpelli.
Sean Fenton with his melodious vocals stands out as the fisherman Xiao Hai with Ted Bigornia adding his considerable comedic gifts to the Emperor's assistant Bing Wen.
Liz Martin, who did the costumes for "Tarzan," once again comes through with lots of colorful creations, including whimsical hairpieces for the Emperor's court. Kahng's varied music (from pop to rock to ballads and even a bit of disco) is in good hands with his six-piece band, including Keith Leung, who uses flute, clarinet and oboe to create the voice of the nightingale.
Although the production would benefit from some judicious cutting -- especially during Act I -- it is a very entertaining piece of theater that imparts its positive message in a charming and compelling way.
"Song of the Nightingale" continues through Nov. 17, at the Alameda Playhouse, 1409 High St. in Alameda. Call 510-523-1553 or go to www.altarena.org.
Contact Sally Hogarty at firstname.lastname@example.org.