Magical Starlight's 'Tarzan' swings into Naperville

Magical Starlight's 'Tarzan' swings into Naperville for eight-performance run

  • Kristin Irvin of Wheaton gets a feel for what it's like to swing through the jungle in "Tarzan."

      Kristin Irvin of Wheaton gets a feel for what it's like to swing through the jungle in "Tarzan." Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Brett Baleskie of Naperville, who plays Tarzan, learns how to use a flying apparatus for his role in the Magical Starlight Theatre production that opens this weekend.

      Brett Baleskie of Naperville, who plays Tarzan, learns how to use a flying apparatus for his role in the Magical Starlight Theatre production that opens this weekend. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Lewie Long, left, who works for the company Vertigo, teaches Olivia Link of Lisle how to use the flying apparatus.

      Lewie Long, left, who works for the company Vertigo, teaches Olivia Link of Lisle how to use the flying apparatus. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
By Ann Piccininni
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted1/8/2019 11:04 AM

Naperville Park District's Magical Starlight Theatre has developed a habit of whisking audiences away from present-day and present-place and depositing them in delightful imaginary worlds.

In 2018, it was the undersea world of "The Little Mermaid." The year before, it was the stylized universe of "Seussical." The rooftops of Mary Poppins' Britain took center stage in 2016. And going back to 2015, the theater troupe brought the magic of Peter Pan to the Naperville Central High School auditorium.

 

This season's production of "Tarzan," set to open Friday for an eight-performance run, will bring audiences to the jungle, a multilevel landscape that will feature aerial feats on swinging vines backed by the soundtrack that Phil Collins wrote for the Disney movie version of the story.

"This is actually based on the animated Disney cartoon from 1999. It's about Tarzan discovering where he belongs," Director Kris Visher said. "Tarzan goes on this journey to uncover who he is. He doesn't know he's different."

The story begins when, as an orphaned infant, Tarzan is adopted by a family of gorillas after his family is shipwrecked in West Africa. He later meets Jane, a human, and embarks on a mission to define himself.

"It's a story of love, it's a story of family, it's a story of persistence, with a lot of humor thrown in," Visher said. "There's a lot of creative spectacle. We have a lot of dancing gorillas. It's been a lot of challenges with the costuming."

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The cast is a mix of 43 children and adults.

"We went small and mighty," Visher said. "We needed strong people in the roles."

One of those people is Brett Baleskie, a Naperville-based professional actor who has appeared in several Magical Starlight shows since he began working with the group at age 14. He plays Tarzan.

"It's different from anything I've done before as an actor," Baleskie said. "It's definitely a challenge."

He said he's been working on swinging through the jungle, with the help of special flying apparatus, while maintaining the attitude and posture of an ape man.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

There's also the costuming, or lack thereof, that is unusual.

"It's the least costuming I've ever had in my life -- a loin cloth and a wig," he said.

Baleskie said the issue of speech is also central to Tarzan's identity.

"I think Tarzan sings more than he speaks in the show, because half the show is him learning how to speak," he said.

To prepare for the role, Baleskie said he, like his castmates, has been learning how to move like a gorilla through imitation.

"We have been watching footage of gorillas," he said. "I do a lot of research."

The show marks the first time Baleskie will "fly" with the help of harnesses and cables.

"It's unique to do this show," Visher said. "It's complicated with all the flying. We hire a company to train us."

The two-act musical runs about two hours, including an intermission, and is appropriate for any age.

"For little kids there's a lot of fun, a lot of color," she said. "It moves very quickly."

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