‘Tarzan’ takes the stage in Rifle
Rifle: 6 p.m. April 7, 8, and 9 at the New Ute Events Center
Grand Junction: 6 p.m. May 21 at the Avalon Theater
Aspen: 6 p.m. June 4 at the Wheeler Opera House
Opening at Rifle’s New Ute Events Center this weekend, “Tarzan the Musical” is a story about the ties that bind us performed by an eclectic group that embodies that ideal.
“I think it’s a really good representation of how community can work together,” said Jarrod Majkut, who plays Kerchak. “My favorite part is seeing the kids on stage.”
It’s also community funded, with local businesses pitching in to help cover a relatively small $6,000 budget.
It’s all arranged by Secret Identity Pictures, which was formed by local actors in October 2014.
“A few friends and I love to act, and we’d done a lot of the things the valley offered,” recalled Tarzan director Brett Lark. “We wanted to create something where we could do more ourselves.”
Last year, the company produced “Aladdin Junior” as part of a summer camp. With “Tarzan,” Lark hopes to take it up a notch.
“We want to take it seriously,” Lark said. “The goal is to eventually take the cast on tour nationally. That would turn some heads.”
A short tour to Grand Junction and Aspen later in the spring is a great start.
“You can get more audiences in different areas,” Lark said. “The actors put so much time and energy into it. I wanted to create more opportunities to get more out of it.”
Lark sees the piece as a great chance to prove the power of community theater.
“I love the story. I was 10 years old when it came out and I’ve watched it a ton,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of people that feel a little different. Disney is all about encouraging creativity and pursuit of dreams.”
That, in terms, informs his interpretation of the script.
“My philosophy was to focus on the story and the emotional content,” he said. “We wanted it to be as authentic as possible.”
That approach is not without its challenges — even for a relatively experienced performer like Majkut, a manager at a whitewater rafting company who ended up getting an associate’s degree in theater after his public speaking teacher recommended a class.
“It’s so outside of what I’ve done before,” he observed. “I have to stand like a gorilla, not a human.”
Lark himself plays adult Tarzan, and has to rely on music director and de facto assistant director Melissa Schuster to critique the scenes he performs in.
“It’s one of those things you do behind the scenes,” she said. “If it goes well, nobody notices.”
“It’s a very dramatic piece,” she added. “It’s got some beautiful music.”
In the end, each actor will walk away with a small paycheck for the Rifle performances, plus hopefully a bit more for the tour.
“It’s pennies on the dollar for the amount of time they put in,” Lark said. “It’s really a token that we’re taking it a little more seriously.”
It certainly makes a difference to Hattie Rensberry, a veteran of the Rifle High School stage who plans to attend the University of Northern Colorado in the autumn.
“This is my first paid role, and there’s something that comes with that. There’s more motivation to be mature and elegant and on an adult level,” she said. “It’s a more experienced, formal group, but they’re just as friendly and just as kind.”
Rensberry also grew up on the Disney film. Her role as Jane comes with a British accent and an unusual fashion sense, but otherwise it fits her.
“I loved the music as a kid, and I identified with Jane,” she said. “It was nice to have a female Disney character who was book smart and witty and nerdy and enjoyed life. “
Rensberry is far from the youngest person to help bring “Tarzan” to life.
Meric Robinson, who plays young Tarzan, just turned 6 and had to have the script read to him. That didn’t stop him from having the whole first scene memorized when he turned out to audition.
“It really made me proud,” said his mother, Shane. “It’s a great opportunity for him.”
Meric has done some modeling and acting in the past, but being so close to home makes this particularly special.
“It’s really nice that it’s here in Rifle,” Shane said. “We have a lot of people coming and a lot of support.”
Robinson’s fans plan to wear brightly colored shirts to stand out in what Shane hopes will be a full house.
“We just want the community to come out and see us,” she said. “The more they support local theater the more we can do.”