Setting helps ‘Tarzan’ succeed

Tarzan” found a home in St. George, Utah. And that iconic hero swinging through the Tuacahn Amphitheatre yells a reminder to a glitzier city a couple of hours down the highway.

Saturday was to be the last night of a real blockbuster for the 1,800-seater: “The biggest-grossing show in our (15-year) history,” says director Scott Anderson, besting even “Les Miserables.”

You might expect this in a venue that caters to busloads of Mormon families. “Les Miz” is shopworn, but the Disney-branded “Tarzan” had not been produced stateside beyond its Broadway run in 2006 and 2007.

More of a surprise? That the show was by most testimony better than the Broadway version. The physical production came to life in a way that wasn’t possible in Broadway’s historic Richard Rodgers Theatre.

“(Broadway) was just a green box. It didn’t look like a forest. It didn’t look like anything,” says Cees de Kok, the Las Vegan who staged the aerial choreography for the Utah version.

“Tarzan” was the show Tuacahn was built for. It just had to wait 15 years to show off the “lake” and waterfall installed for a best-forgotten musical history of Utah.

De Kok and his wife, Cathy, commuted up and down I-15 from his “night job” in the Stratosphere’s “Bite.” Working with apparatus installed by Las Vegas-based Flying By Foy, he spent more than a month teaching the cast to fly. It all paid off with Tarzan swooping down for his first look at Jane and plucking a ribbon from her hair. Not onstage, but in the aisle of the audience.

Disney is now letting Tuacahn stage “The Little Mermaid” next summer. Again, it will be the first beyond Broadway for a title that, like “Tarzan,” was a relative under performer in New York. This suggests a “legitimate” pedigree isn’t as crucial to every show as the right setting and presentation.

Hello, Tuacahn. Or Vegas.

Remember the place where Cirque du Soleil built amazing custom stages for “Ka” and “Love”? Suspiciously, Cirque’s newer “Criss Angel: Believe” and “Viva Elvis” take place on more standard stages that suggest — gasp! — these titles could be replaced some day.

The Vegas version of “Jersey Boys” is interchangeable with touring road versions. The advent of a new performing arts center suggests we may not see much more of this type of production on the Strip. At least Vegas did all it could to give the well-traveled “Phantom of the Opera” new life with a custom theater and new surprises.

Alas, Las Vegas lost “Spider-Man” to Broadway, where the new musical is struggling to make a Nov. 14 opening in one of Broadway’s newer houses, the Foxwoods Theatre, built in 1998.

“Tarzan” proves you don’t have to get it right the first time. But why wait?

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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