The boy who would be Tarzan
CONVERSATIONS - Ricky Lo (The Philippine Star) - May 5, 2013 - 12:00am

Don Domenech?

No, the name doesn’t ring a bell just yet but it will soon.

The Puerto Rican actor has been tapped to play the title role in Tarzan: The Musical to be mounted June 24 to July 7 at the Meralco Theater by Viva Atlantis Productions, to be directed by Chari Arespacochaga (who also megged the local production of Rock of Ages topbilled by MiG Ayesa).

Tarzan: The Musical is based on the Disney film of the same title, from the story by Edgar Rice Burroughs, with music and lyrics by Phil Collins and book by David Henry Hwang (Madame Butterfly, etc.).

Don made his Broadway debut as the aspiring rock star Drew in Rock of Ages in 2011, right after the musical’s US tour in which he was a swing performer. Pre-Broadway, Don appeared in Sister Act (in Pasadena, California) and Wonderland (Tampa, Florida), and also in Rent, Altar Boyz and The Who’s Tommy.

Know more about Don in the following exclusive e-mail Conversation:

How are you preparing (physically and emotionally) for Tarzan? How do you usually prepare for a role?

“Having to rediscover a human being for the first time is interesting. I’ve been watching a lot of animal videos to see what they go through when put in new situations. The care they take to discover something new while constantly being on guard.

“Tarzan doesn’t have a gym membership, nutritionist or a personal trainer in the jungle, so I’ve been doing a lot of body weight exercises and trying to stay away from heavy weights when I work out. More agility training than anything. My new thing is jumping rope. I love it.”  

How did the Tarzan producers get you for the role? Did you have to audition for it? 

“I had been referred by my voice coach!  I put myself on tape singing songs from the show and then met with Chari Arespacochaga, our director, here in Manhattan. Everything aligned and I’m on my way to Manila!”  

What have you heard about theater in the Philippines?

“I’ve heard about how amazing the team out there is from MiG Ayesa even before I knew about Tarzan! We kept in touch after we did Rock of Ages on Broadway together.”

Have you worked with any other Filipino actor?

“I had the honor of singing with Lea Salonga last summer at a concert of hers at the Tuacahn Amphitheater. I also worked with Jose Llana on a show called Wonderland.”

So you know MiG quite well. Have you met Constantine Maroulis (the American Idol finalist who originated the Drew character on Broadway)?  

“MiG and I also did the Rock of Ages Tour. Constantine and I did Rent (in 2003-2004) and the Rock of Ages Tour together. Small world! Even smaller theater world!”  

Tell us about your experience playing Drew and then Paul (in Rent). Did you see a part of you in either one or in both characters?

“Drew for sure, because at one point or another, everyone wants to be a rock star in their own little world and needs to find out how to get there or even if that’s what they really want in life.

“Paul in Rent does so many different things throughout that show, there’s always an outlet. Rent is such a fun show to do. Everyone that has been a part of it can tell you there is an energy in that music and with those lyrics that can’t be duplicated.”  

How much more challenging is the Tarzan role compared to those two and other roles that you have played?

“We’ll see when we start rehearsing! Right now I’m just trying to stay in shape! (There’s a lot of pizza to be had in NYC).”

You got into theater at 11 or 12. From whom or from where did you get your interest in theater? At what point in your life did you realize you love theater? Was it when you saw a particular play (what was it)?

“It started with my chorus teacher, Matt Farnsworth, in middle school. He was the first person that I told when I auditioned for Rent in 1999. We’ve known each other for more than 10 years. I knew I loved it from the minute I stepped on that stage. There’s nothing like it in the world. The first show I ever saw was The Will Rogers Follies, but the one that clenched it for me was The Who’s Tommy. I love that show.”

Any other member of the family who’s into acting? What kind of family did you come from? Tell us about your childhood.

“It’s only my sister and I but she’s not into acting. I have some cousins who are getting into it now so if they ask for advice, I give it, but you need to find what works for you in this business at the end of the day. There’s more than one right way to do things.  

“We’re a large Puerto Rican family. I have one sister, and a ton of cousins and they know how to throw a party! We all lived very close to each other growing up so it was nice to always have someone around. My sister and I fall between generations, so I have cousins who are much older and some that are much younger.  

“My childhood consisted of me singing in my room to every kind of music imaginable. I was involved in every corner of the music department I could get my hands on in high school. It’s what spoke to me. It’s what focused me. It’s still to this day what keeps my attention the most. When you get a bunch of musicians together in a room and everything starts to click, that’s magic. The same way to get actors together for a movie, singers together for a concert, or any like-minded group together to create something bigger than themselves.”  

How soon are you coming to Manila (maybe for the start of rehearsals or simply to “condition” yourself about the country)?

“I have just over one month left here in the States before I head out the first week of May to start rehearsing and settle in.”  

Any dream role (explain briefly why)?

“Yes, one that I create from scratch! The creative process on a new musical is so special! There are no wrong answers and you discover new things about your character every day which affect everyone surrounding that character. Think about this: Every great character started with someone doing it for the very first time.”

What about doing a Filipino play (how fast can you in blending into another culture)?

“I come from a Puerto Rican background so we share a lot of the same cultural similarities. My best friend from high school is Filipino and I noticed those similarities from the second I spent time with his family. I’m excited to explore more of the Filipino culture right from the mainland!”  

(E-mail reactions at You may also send your questions to For more updates, photos and videos visit or follow me on www.twitter/therealrickylo.)

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