Playing Tarzan and Jane isn't a stretch for Hale Centre actors
Stage preview • Hale production will feature acrobatics, rotating stage and intricate costumes.
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West Valley City • When two of the lead performers in Hale Centre Theatre's "Tarzan" sing the Phil Collins hit "You'll Be in My Heart," they won't be acting.

Bradley Lever, who plays Tarzan, and Megan Heaps, who portrays Jane, met at Hale Centre Theatre in 2011 and are engaged in real life.

In 2010, "I actually went and saw Megan in 'The Scarlet Pimpernel,' " said Lever, who shares the title role with Derek Smith. Heaps and Anna Daines share the role of Jane.

"I was on a date, and I am pretty sure my date at the time knew and could tell that I was awestruck as I sat in silence witnessing Megan's beauty and talent," Lever said.

A year later, Lever and Heaps were cast in Hale Center's "A Tale of Two Cities." Lever said he "quickly realized that her personality was equally beautiful."

Disney's "Tarzan," which starts Friday, Aug. 9, and continues through Sept. 28, will feature cast members swinging high above Hale Centre's theater-in-the-round on several yards of silk and fabric. Actors will also perform on a lyra, a completely round hoop suspended 20 feet above the stage.

The high-flying actors have been trained by Ramsi Nia Stoker, a Murray woman who previously performed as an aerial artist with the nation's premier acrobatic troupe, AntiGravity Productions.

The show is based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' classic story and the 1999 Disney animated feature film about an orphan jungle boy raised by a nurturing family of apes. Performers will portray the jungle animals by wearing elaborate headpieces that do not cover their faces, allowing them to show emotion. Lead costume designer Peggy Willis and her team created the intricate costumes, including hand-sewing 60,000 individual strands of fur to make the ape costumes.

"We are doing things we've never done before to make this production visually stunning," executive producer Sally Dietlein said of the aerial acrobatics. "At the same time, our production team is focused on making sure the characters and story of Tarzan shine through."

It helps when you have a real couple such as Lever and Heaps, who have performed in several shows together.

"At the beginning of 'A Tale of Two Cities,' we started out as just friends, but quickly discovered we had feelings for each other," Heaps said, remembering a "Somewhere in Time" moment where the spark was lit.

"I was taking pictures of cast members backstage," said Heaps, a self-employed photographer, "and looked up to discover Brad staring at me across the room, with this look that made me go weak in the knees. I raised my camera slowly and took a picture. … I still have that picture, and it still has the same effect."

Over Memorial Day, Lever proposed to Heaps in a helicopter over Zion National Park. Part of their upcoming wedding will be at Hale Centre Theatre.

Heaps says while it feels natural to be onstage as a couple, sometimes it can be a challenge, especially if scenes require tension and discomfort.

"It's also a little tricky during the rehearsal process," she said. "We almost always have to compartmentalize the two areas of our lives for a few hours each night in order to focus and prepare."

Both say they are joyful to be in this show, filled, as Heaps says, "with universal truths. It's all about family, sacrifice, love, loyalty and belonging."

But even more than that, they are both excited about the seriously cool stunts.

"Our show is packed with really complex stunts all around," Lever said. "The cast has been fortunate enough to be trained by a professional aerial coach, Stoker, and she has been nothing short of amazing, patient and … pregnant!"

"Learning these stunts has been one of my favorite parts of this experience," Heaps added. "Almost every person in the cast gets to do amazingly ridiculous stunts. This show is Cirque du Soleil meets Disney!"

Directed and choreographed by Dave Tinney, "Tarzan" features music direction by Kelly DeHaan and technical direction and scenic design by Kacey Udy.

It is the 60th show that Udy has designed at Hale, and he said the crew has designed and fabricated an intricate setup of multiple stacked turntables that allow the stage to rotate and lift. Silk and fabric also are used heavily.

"We use it as vines, moving water, giant projection screens, butterfly wings and various other items to artistically create our space," he said. "We did not want to be literal with the locations but instead, wanted to make sure that we created beautiful backdrops for our story."

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'Tarzan'

This production features actors trained by an aerial artist from the nation's premier acrobatic troupe.

When • Monday-Saturday, Aug. 9 to Sept. 28. Shows nightly at 7:30 with Saturday matinees at 12:30 and 4 p.m. Two additional matinees specifically for children 3 and older performed at 9 a.m. on Aug. 24 and Sept. 7.

Where • Hale Centre Theatre, 3333 S. Decker Lake Drive, West Valley City

Tickets • $16-$28 from 801-984-9000 or hct.org