published Tuesday, January 31st, 2012

Meet the leads in Center for Creative Arts' production of Disney's 'Tarzan'

David Couter, left, and Brittni Rhodes, both 17, rehearse for their roles as Tarzan and Jane in the Center for Creative Arts’ upcoming production of “Tarzan.” CCA is one of four high schools in the country to stage the musical as a pilot program for Disney Theatrical Productions. The show runs Feb. 16-18.
David Couter, left, and Brittni Rhodes, both 17, rehearse for their roles as Tarzan and Jane in the Center for Creative Arts’ upcoming production of “Tarzan.” CCA is one of four high schools in the country to stage the musical as a pilot program for Disney Theatrical Productions. The show runs Feb. 16-18.
Photo by Dan Henry.

Brittni Rhodes, 17

* Parents: Cynthia Rhodes, Ruey Rhodes.

* College plans: Musical theater major, college undecided.

* Favorite role: Penny Pingleton in Chattanooga Theatre Centre production of "Hairspray."

* Most admired actors: Sutton Foster, Laura Osnes.

* Favorite musical: "Les Miserables."

David Couter, 17

* Parents: Cheri Markham-Couter, Robert Couter.

* College plans: Theater major at Oglethorpe University.

* Favorite role: Papa Ge in "Once on This Island."

* Most admired actor: John Cazale.

* Favorite musical: "Pippin."

IF YOU GO

* What: "Tarzan."

* When: 7 p.m. Feb. 16-18.

* Where: Center for Creative Arts, 1301 Dallas Road.

* Tickets: $15 reserved, $10 general admission, $5 students.

For weeks, David Couter has been studying YouTube videos of monkeys in their natural habitat, learning to ape the way the primates walk and interact.

It's the extra mile he's going to perfect his portrayal of Tarzan in the Center for Creative Arts' upcoming production of "Tarzan."

CCA is one of four schools in the nation to be selected by Disney Theatrical Productions to stage the musical based on Disney's animated feature film. Disney representatives handpicked the schools to be pilot programs to see how easily a high school can manage such a large production. A Disney representative will attend the CCA performance to view the results and get cast feedback.

According to musical theater teacher Jason Whitehead, who is directing the show, the stage production carries a budget of about $19,000 in order to meet Disney's -- and the school's -- standards.

Couter, a senior at CCA, is cast in the title role, and junior Brittni Rhodes will play opposite him as Jane. Both 17-year-olds are already accomplished actors whose talent has been recognized with local and state awards.

David is currently the state's best high school actor, an honor he won over 50 student actors from across the state at the Tennessee State Theater Convention. Brittni won a Miss Annie award last fall from the Chattanooga Theatre Centre for her portrayal of Penny Pingleton in "Hairspray."

"David is a very strong actor, and I honestly felt that he had very good physicality in terms of walking like Tarzan would if raised by monkeys. David is always striving to improve, always trying to learn something new, always studying and researching," Whitehead said.

"One of the scenes I had David and Brittni read was 'Me, Tarzan. You, Jane,' and it was just magic. They clicked very well. Both of them are very engaging and can command the stage," the director said of his leads.

Acknowledging that they are two of only eight youth in the nation who will play these roles for Disney, David and Brittni discussed their preparation.

Q: How comfortable are you with each other? Is there chemistry?

A: Brittni: Over the summer we got to know each other a little better because we were both in the Choo Choo Kids' summer show in Lake Winnie, and we were both in "Hairspray."

Q: What do you bring to your portrayals of the characters?

ABrittni: Jane is kind of a confusing character. I'm still trying to figure her out. She is a Victorian woman, and I'm researching mannerisms of that period. But she's a bookworm and so smart. In the cartoon, Jane was funny and had a sense of humor; but in the Broadway version, she is more real, a genuine Victorian woman.

A: David: Over winter break, I got the book "Tarzan of the Apes" by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I've been going back to that as a form of studying. He describes Tarzan as purely masculine. There is nothing he has to do; he doesn't have to conform to being polite or having manners. He does what he wants, when he wants. I'm trying to get into that mindset.

Q: Flying By Foy is coming in to help Tarzan swing from his vine onto the stage. What types of precautions are being taken?

A: David: I've worked with Flying By Foy twice before. I was Peter Pan in 2006 at the Colonnade, and I was a flying monkey in "The Wizard of Oz" at the Theatre Centre. There are a lot of safety precautions: pats on the shoulder that let you know you are hooked up or off the cable, a whole day of rehearsal. Flying By Foy technicians are running our rigging.

My costume hasn't been made yet because we are waiting to see what type of flying harness I'll wear in order to decide how to cover it and me in the costume.

Q: It's inevitable that people will compare the stage production to the Disney animated movie. How similar are they?

A: Brittni: There are some new songs in the stage show that you don't hear in the movie, and some songs aren't sung by the same characters as in the film.

Q: Who is accompanying the musical?

A: David: We are using a taped track made by Broadway musicians.

A: Brittni: I think we are the first school to get to use the track.

Q: Are CCA students building the sets?

A: David: Yes. The art department, led by Chad Burnett, is helping with that. It's definitely a collaborative process of the tech, art and musical theater departments.

Q: For anyone who has never been to a CCA production before, do you think this is a good representation of the talent there?

A: David: No question. Every performance by anyone from CCA is. You can feel the passion at our school. I feel like anything that comes out of CCA's doors is great.

about Susan Pierce...

Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...

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