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Spokane Children’s Theatre summer camp brings Disney classic to its stage

The cast and crew of “Tarzan,” who are producing the show as part of an intensive camp. (Courtesy of Doug Beschta)
The cast and crew of “Tarzan,” who are producing the show as part of an intensive camp. (Courtesy of Doug Beschta)

Instead of canoeing, archery or staying up late telling ghost stories by the fire, the cast and crew of Spokane Children’s Theatre’s production of “Tarzan” have spent their time at summer camp learning to dance like apes and constructing jungle vines.

The actors, who auditioned for “Tarzan” in June, have spent the past two weeks in an intensive camp focused on singing, dancing and acting to prepare for the musical’s premiere on Friday.

Director Jennifer Tindall chose to produce “Tarzan” because its story, songs and characters are beloved by many, including herself.

“When I was a kid, I loved ‘Tarzan,’ ” she said during a recent break in rehearsals. “That came out when I was four or five years old. It was a huge movie, and I remember going to the theater to see it.”

The musical’s message, that family members don’t have to look alike to be considered family and that we should accept our differences and focus on what’s on the inside rather than the outside, also spoke to her.

“It’s a really powerful story that I think hasn’t been told enough in the community, and I really wanted the opportunity to be able to tell that as well,” she said.

CJ Lorentz stars as Tarzan (he also plays a dad), and Erin Chaves stars as Jane.

The musical also features Georgia Galbreath (mom), Nash McFarlane (young Tarzan), Braeden Schierman (Kerchak), Karlin Kahler (Kala), Gabby Gonzalez (young Terk), Hudson Kahler (Terk), Leah Gardner (a leopard), Danny Healy (a porter), Jordan Baird (Clayton) and Daniel Renz (Snipes).

The ensemble includes Ethan Donahoe, Galbreath, Dinah Gardner, Gonzalez, Lexi McFarlane, Nash McFarlane, Rianna Schierman and Emma York.

“Tarzan” is co-directed by Audrie Pursch, stage managed by Molly Robbins and choreographer by Isa Jackowich.

During a typical season, Spokane Children’s Theatre shows feature actors of all ages. Its production of “The Jungle Book,” for example, featured actors ages 6 to 70.

But because this camp is for ages 13 to 19, the older actors naturally became the mentors.

“It was nice to cast the older kids in the bigger roles as the role models to the younger kids that are in the cast,” Tindall, a theater student at Spokane Falls Community College, said. “They look up to them.”

This intensive camp is a new endeavor for the Spokane Children’s Theatre, which also hosted camps for ages 5 to 13 earlier in the summer. They used to produce summer shows but found them challenging to pull off.

“It’s hard to get people to audition, rehearse and then get an audience,” managing director Doug Beschta said. “It’s just difficult, and doing the research, we were losing money doing summer shows.”

Beschta, who has been involved with the theater for five years, started as managing director in July after spending time working backstage then acting as the board’s treasurer.

As the board changed, the theater would too, making it hard for Spokane’s oldest theater organization to find its footing.

“In the past, we’ve kind of floundered and now we have hopefully a central hub, a central focus …,” he said.

“Taking this step with the managing director, my goal is to make sure that Spokane Children’s Theatre is here for another 72 years.”

That goal seems achievable, as the theater, which prides itself on being affordable, gears up for its 72nd season, which kicks off in October with “Schoolhouse Rock.”

Spokane Children’s Theatre will host its 72nd Season Fundraiser Gala next month, and the theater is also prepping to launch a new website.

But for now, it’s back to the jungle to finish rehearsing for “Tarzan,” a production Tindall hopes resonates as much with children today as it did when she was younger.

“Now that I’m older, people have younger siblings or people my age have kids as well, so if they want to introduce that to their children, want to introduce music and the story, this is a great way to do that.”