TRAVERSE CITY — Tarzan of the Apes was famous for swinging through the jungle from vine to vine.
But no vines are necessary for the cast of Miracle Productions' latest musical, "Tarzan," which opens July 11 at Milliken Auditorium in Traverse City. The actors worked with Aerial Angels out of Kalamazoo, who trained them to use aerial silks, much like those used by performers in Cirque du Soleil, said Miracle’s director and founder, Pat Gallagher.
“This show is challenging because it has the element of suspension of disbelief," Gallagher said. "We have to create the illusion of flying through the trees.”
Learning to use the silks for flying was one of the main reasons Julia Krueger, a 2008 Traverse City Central High School graduate, said she returned for her third season with the company. Krueger, who majors in dance at Western Michigan University and is dance captain for this production, already had extensive dance experience but was looking to hone a new skill.
“I wanted to learn how to aerial dance,” Krueger said, adding that others in the show already had aerial skills from working with a circus. “I've had some gymnastics experience, and I wanted to work with the aerial silks.”
Most of the cast of 22 are former area high school students, known locally for their outstanding performances in high school musicals, according to Gallagher, a retired teacher who worked with many of them when she directed shows for Central and West Senior High Schools in Traverse City. Now college students, about 50 per cent are majoring in music, theater or dance, she said.
“Because of the music programs here, we have exceptional talent. They needed a venue to showcase their talents, and Miracle provides a quality, touring company-style entertainment for locals and visitors,” she said.
Both the animated Disney movie and the musical "Tarzan" roughly follow the original story written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Exceptions include the character of Terk, a female in the movie version, but a male in the musical. The elephant Tanta does not make an appearance in the musical, though other animals do.
“What I love about this show is the human story told through animals. That appeals to the teacher in me,” Gallagher said. “There is the outcast, who is bullied by others because he’s different — he doesn’t have fur, he has hair. There’s the mother who shows sacrificial love, both in bringing him up when others go against her, and then in letting him go.”
Gallagher said her choice of "Tarzan" fits with her other criteria for choosing a musical: it can’t be a show that has been overdone, and it must be family friendly. “I want to have kids come and be inspired,” she said.
Music and lyrics by Phil Collins include the popular “You’ll Be in My Heart” and “Who Better Than Me.” This production has nine more songs than Phil Collins wrote for the Broadway show, Gallagher said, noting that after the show closed on Broadway, it was tweaked and went on to be a huge hit in Europe.
Costumes, hair design and make-up for the production are all custom, she said. Laura Mather, a critical care nurse at Munson Medical Center, is in charge of cosmetics and not only spent hours meticulously designing a unique look for each character but also taught all the actors how to apply their own make-up.
Erin Peck, Miracle’s artistic director and choreographer, said she is particularly impressed with this cast.
“I like working with them on the professional level,” said Peck, who also teaches at Interlochen Arts Academy every summer. “I literally throw the choreography at them and they have to get it in one or two tries. They know that professionally you don’t get to work on one thing for two weeks.”
The rest of the creative team is composed of Broadway veteran Christina Seymour, associate director for the show; award-winning scenic designer Rich Mason; and music director Lynne Warren.
Producing the shows every year is expensive, Gallagher said, with licensing and rentals easily costing up to $9,000.
“I always funded it with my own money,” she said. ”But when I retired from teaching last year, I couldn’t do it anymore. A group that wanted to see it continue formed Miracle Patrons Foundation and had a fundraising gala last May. They raised the seed money to purchase the licensing and rentals for 'Tarzan.'”
The show runs through July 21. For tickets or more information, visit www.miracleproductionstc.com or www.mynorthtickets.com or call 1-800-836-0717.