Arizona Broadway Theatre’s Arizona premiere of Disney’s Tarzan: Rhys Gilyeat, who plays the title character, will be comfortable in his loincloth. The New York-based actor is in the best shape of his life, and as anyone who saw his previous performances in Take Me Out or The Full Monty can attest, Gilyeat was in pretty great condition to begin with. His commitment to the part went so far as to include visiting a local waxing salon to achieve the hairless Tarzan seen in the 1999 animated film. Gilyeat admits that his reaction to pain is to laugh, which he demonstrated on a funny but painful-to-imagine video he shot at his first waxing session.
“It’s a really great script,” Gilyeat explained “and I am watching every single (Tarzan) film I can find and the music is wonderful. Phil Collins wrote it, so it’s very pop, which is right up my alley.” Regarding his trademark “Tarzan Yell”, he laughed "It’s going to need some work.”
The show coincides with the hundredth anniversary of Edgar Rich Burroughs’ character, a boy who was adopted by apes when his parents were killed, who must save his habitat, and rescue Jane, before it is destroyed by greedy explorers. Songs include Collins' Oscar-winning hit “You’ll Be In My Heart” along with songs written especially for the musical like “Like No Man I've Ever Seen” and “For the First Time.”
When asked what he is most excited to do in the show, Gilyeat replied, “It’s going to be the flying. I am really stoked, because this is the first time that I’ve ever done true stage flying. This is the first time I’ll be hooked up to a harness... it’ll be great! I get an adrenaline rush from all of that stuff, so I’m really excited.”
ABT has hired Flying by Foy, the professional agency in charge of Broadway flying productions like Peter Pan and The Phantom of the Opera. It means that Gilyeat will be swinging over the heads of the audience with the same finesse as the Phantom’s chandelier, although he won’t crash on the stage in the same way.
“It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, but he has this massive discovery arc that goes through the entire show,” Gilyeat explained, adding that he has to imagine having been raised by apes his whole life and then having to grow up in a human sense and perhaps find love with Jane.
Gilyeat was born in Utah and raised Mormon, but moved to Mesa, where he graduated from Dobson High. He became involved in theater at a young age, which he says, helped him with his coming out process. “Fortunately, I was able to discover myself quite easily, and I had a support group behind me. Not everyone is that lucky as we are in the arts. For me, Pride is about nurturing and helping others get to the point that I was already at. I started the coming out process when I was about fourteen. Obviously, you go in stages. First, your friends, and then go to your family, depending on the relationships. It’s takes time,” he added. “I was raised very religious in a Mormon family, so there were those elements to go through. I have a very large family and opinions vary, but at the end of the day, we’re still family. So it’s been wonderful and they’ve been very supportive. At this point in my life, it’s almost a non-issue.”
Like a lot of notable performers such as Emma Stone, Chelsea Kane and Max Crumm, Gilyeat got great training at Valley Youtheatre, and he also performed with Jordin Sparks when both were finalists in the Arizona Idol promotion for American Idol. Gilyeat’s favorite role was his award-winning performance as The Who’s Tommy, as well as Dean in ABT’s hit All Shook Up last season.
When asked how he was enjoying living in New York now, Gilyeat replied that he and New York have a love/hate relationship, but that he’s made his peace with the fast-paced city. He says that he’d love to return to the Valley and do more parts, and he is excited for audiences to get their first look at Tarzan.
Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.