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Actors swing through Perry Hall in Tarzan: The Stage Musical

By Ted Heuring

Willie Ithier and Bess Calhoun perform in Tarzan.

Photo credit: Shooting Star Photo & Custom Framing
Willie Ithier and Bess Calhoun perform in Tarzan.

Tarzan: The Stage Musical, took the stage of James Perry Hall Theater, Feb. 27 until March 8.

UW-Fox Valley celebrated their 5th year anniversary of James Perry Hall Theater with their biggest show to date.

"It's our 5th birthday party so this year we wanted something pretty spectacular,” Susan Rabideau, associate professor of communications-theater arts, said.

Rabideau also produced the show, which began casting in November.

"This is our biggest show budget-wise, technician-wise, and our most ambitious show to date... The biggest challenge in putting on a production is getting all of the parts to work together. You have the director, designers, musicians, choreographers, costumers, stage managers, stage hands, the actors, and you have to try and get all of those pieces to work," Rabideau said.

Tarzan has more technicians than any previous show at UW-Fox, with a cast of nearly 40 actors and actresses.

Willie Ithier, who has done community shows with UW-Fox before, played Tarzan. Bess Calhoun played Jane Porter. Bess is a trained opera singer who also teaches voice, Tarzan was her first show at UW-Fox.

"I did not originally intend on auditioning, but in my voice studio I was coaching one of my students who was auditioning for the role of Jane at her local high school. I started singing through it with her and I found that the role was actually a pretty good fit for me, so I auditioned and got the part, and she [her student] got Jane too," Calhoun said.

"The acting and singing part of Tarzan is easy, it's the physical work of changing your body and pretending to be an ape while maintaining human-like movements as well... you have to find a balance with your movement between a man and an ape," Ithier said.

Ithier also focused a great deal on his physical fitness in preparation for the role of Tarzan.

"Nobody wants to see a tub of lard in a loin cloth," Ithier said.

The show was physically demanding for the actors, which included flying through the theater on cables. The prospect of flying made cast and crew both nervous and excited.

"I was very concerned about the flying. The company we brought in is the same company that flies the witches in Wicked. In Tarzan, there are all sorts of creatures that fly and this is the first time ZFX (production company) has done Tarzan nonprofessionally and it's very nerve-wracking," Rabideau said.

UW-Fox alumni Kylie Kintopf played the Leopard, Butterfly, and an Ape. She flew as two different characters during the show, and had a different outlook on the prospect of flying in a production.

"We were so excited from the day we were casted as flyers it was a little intimidating but it's exciting at the same time too, I’m looking forward to putting it all together for the show," Kintopf said.

"I was nervous at first but after day one it actually has been a lot of fun, it is kind of like zip-lining," Ithier said.

Sophomore Nick Lamers, who played an ape in the show, admitted the physical demands of the show caught up to him at times.

"After the first day of rehearsals I was so sore that I could not go down the stairs to the basement," Lamers said.

Students involved in the show discussed the difficulties of balancing rehearsals with other responsibilities like school, work, and their social lives.

"It has its moments, I am a full-time student, I have four jobs and rehearsals, so it's a lot of work but I love it," Kintopf said.

"At first it was really tricky. Especially now that it is getting to crunch time, it's been super busy between work and school, but it's also really nice to have a break from the everyday normal. For me this is my social activity and it is really fun," freshman Maggie Dickinson, said.

After months of rehearsal, actors were excited to present their work in Perry Hall.

"I am feeling great! I think that a lot of us work with our natural instincts off of the audience to get help us better get into our character," Ithier said.

"I feel well prepared and I trust everyone around me so I know we will do well," Calhoun said.

"I am super jazzed! I am so excited," Dickinson said.

Sophomores Michael Maguire and Deborah Luna attended the show.

"I was really impressed with the production design features, they were really ambitious and it was really impressive, I found them to be very clever," Maguire said.

"The scene with the spider web was really unique and I was not expecting that at all, I thought it was very cool... I thought the adult Jane and Tarzan actors were phenomenal, really fantastic. I was also impressed by the British characters as well,” Luna said.

"It was something that I had never seen before. The costumes, aerial stuff, and the animals, everything was really good. I really liked Young Tarzan [Drew Pollard] she did a really good job for this being her first time [performing].”

This was the first play that freshmen Sarah Gaestel had ever seen.

"I thought it was awesome, I enjoyed Tarzan both the young and the older one throughout the show. There was not a specific scene that I loved more than others, I thought they all were great," Gaestel said.

Erick Gyrion, technical theater director at UW-Fox and director of Tarzan has designed every show here at UW-Fox since his arrival. He designed the set and it was built by students in a communications-theater arts class last year.

"When putting on a production normally the most difficult thing is the cast in general. Getting a cast that works well together, getting them to create the vision of the show, it's a bit more difficult because you are limited in the community theater, but it was not a challenge for this show, this cast has been amazing and I can’t wait for audiences to see it," Gyrion said.

"I love doing shows with Erick. He makes you feel so special in the theater because he has a certain way of going about doing things. The cast is great, we have all clicked like a family and I love coming to rehearsals, it's my little getaway from life," Kintopf said.

"I am overwhelmed by the amount of talent that people have brought to the cast. I think that Erick in particular has a great vision for what he wants. Working with Susan has been really lovely she has a great idea about how to get actors to feel certain things and that is really cool, and I was really welcomed, I had never done a show here before and everyone was so kind, it was very family oriented and I really appreciated that," Calhoun said.

"The directors have been awesome, this is the first show I've been a part of here where I have seen them so relaxed and laid back. The talent and quality that Erick has put into this show is ridiculous. I definitely think this is the show that is going to beat all other shows," Ithier said.

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