By Sue Moore
Tarzan the Musical, a high-flying theatrical production, will be gracing the stage of the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center in March. It is the annual musical offering performed by the Vicksburg Community Schools theater department each spring.
This one has a special twist: Teenagers will be flying through the air like Tarzan in the original musical based on Walt Disney’s epic animated musical adventure.
The $8,000 cost of the flying harnesses, wires and ropes to lend authenticity to the play has been a product of intensive fundraising by teens, their parents and Melissa Sparks, the director of the play. They needed the financial backing by March 1 and have been involved in at least one fundraiser per week since deciding to stage this entertaining musical play. This included coupon books, business sponsorships such as Panera Bread, cookie-dough sales, pop bottle returns and several other opportunities. They raised $350 by going table to table singing love songs on Valentine’s Day to diners at Main Street Pub.
They hit pay dirt with an appeal to the Vicksburg Community Schools Foundation, which awarded them a $3,000 grant, contingent upon raising the remainder of the funds by March 1. Sparks’ appeal was based upon having the right equipment to fully stage this challenging play. It involves 40 students on stage who range in age from fourth grade to seniors in high school. Another 20 to 30 students serve in the backstage production, which Sparks also manages. The musical director for the show is Dusty Morris, the high school vocal music director.
Lauren Burke, a senior, told the VCSF board that her years of participation in the theater program have taught her leadership skills and how to communicate on a high level. “It’s a welcoming environment where we can build each other up,” Burke said. She is the assistant director on this play and helped with the fall production of Shakespeare.
Jess Schmidt, a junior, talked about his love of the journey in theatre when he first was chosen for a part in seventh grade; he has been in many others since then. “I’ve met all of my friends here.”
The flying equipment will be installed on March 8 with a crew from an Illinois company present to do the work and instruct the cast on the safety requirements. The actual play will have a run on March 16, 17, 24 at 7 p.m. and a matinee on March 25 at 2 p.m.
The play is an adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ book and work of Tony Award-winning playwright David Henry Hwan. The production features heart-pumping music by rock legend Phil Collins, with award winning hits like, “You’ll Be in My Heart” for an unforgettable theatrical experience performed by students who have tremendous musical and stage capabilities, according to Sparks.
“This is a wonderful group of young people,” Sparks said. “They are inclusive, supportive, and build community as they work together. This show is about acceptance of each other, be it amongst the gorillas or in humankind. This is what I’ve been teaching in my 18 years of theatre at Vicksburg. They can be loved for who they are, supportive of each other and build an atmosphere of acceptance.”
Starring in lead rolls are Alex Smith as Tarzan, Sydney Andres as Jane, Emily Towns as Kala the gorilla mother, Jess Schmidt as Kerchak the gorilla father and R.J. Robertson-DeGraff as the dance captain.