'Jungle Book': Lessons Swing From the Vines

By Celia Wren
Washington Post Staff Writer

Saturday, October 6, 2007; Page C05

A tried-and-true motif of children's theater -- that it's okay to be different -- gets an exotic twist in Imagination Stage's latest offering: a colorful, sitar-twanging musical based on Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book."

With an engagingly Eastern-sounding score by Daniel Levy and a book by April-Dawn Gladu (they co-authored the lyrics), this 75-minute family show provides an accessible introduction to Kipling's tale of Mowgli, a boy raised alongside wise, mysterious jungle beasts. Director Kathryn Chase Bryer's efficiently paced staging contains respectful cosmopolitan touches (an Indian stick dance, for instance), but it also offers fun comic moments featuring a vaudeville team of irreverent monkeys. These rowdy simians, who might not be out of place on Nickelodeon, help speed the production along to its live-and-let-live conclusion.

It all unfurls on Ethan Sinnott's tropical set, lush with trees and vines and peppered with pottery vases suggesting the human realm beyond the rain forest. Costume designer Debra Kim Sivigny also emphasizes the coexistence of people and fauna with her stylized attire. The actors, who play Indian villagers in some scenes, wear tunics and turbans, or diaphanous headdresses and sari-like skirts. Donning a suggestive tail and a pair of pointed ears -- and adopting a few graceful dance-like gestures -- turns them into the story's zoological characters.

The most distinctive of those is the villainous tiger Shere Khan (Ray Ficca), who has it in for the amiable Mowgli (Chris Wilson, acting suitably callow). Mowgli's adopted mother, a stately wolf (Jeri Marshall), and the panther Bagheera (an aristocratic Jenna Sokolowski) keep the young human safe for a while, with help from the jovial bear Baloo (Sasha Olinick), who tutors local cubs in the Law of the Jungle. In the musical number "One Blood," which is likely to appeal to younger children, Baloo coaxes his students and the audience through an enumeration of jungle creatures, with a hand gesture and a greeting cry ("Squack! Hsss!") for each one.

In a more sophisticated touch, one of the story's animals, a raptor, is embodied as a puppet -- a detail that enriches the production's visual texture.

The puppeteer for this brief sequence is Aaron Holmes, who at other times sits to one side of the stage playing Indian and African drums, shivery chimes and other tangy percussion.

Still, it's the cackling monkeys portrayed by Sokolowski and Nadya Chacon that steal the show, crouching and loping around and reeling off bad puns and inane jokes. They're goofy figures, but when they briefly get the best of Mowgli, the moment drives home how helpless a human can be in a wild environment. (For those who can't get enough of Kipling's man-meets-jungle saga, Disney has just released a 40th-anniversary DVD of the animated movie.)

In the show's poignant conclusion, Mowgli realizes that he's not inferior to his animal buddies, just different. Diversity isn't the only value the show champions, either: The jungle is teeming with examples of cooperation, loyalty, tolerance and respect for the environment.

Fortunately, these morals don't get in the way of the evocative atmosphere, and don't obstruct the fun. This is a musical in which someone actually slips on a banana peel: Theater doesn't get much more user-friendly than that.


'Jungle Book' Provides More Than Bare Necessities

By: Curt Holeman, Monday July 18, 2011

A hint of Bollywood razzle-dazzle energizes Georgia Shakespeare's family series production of The Jungle Book. Audiences probably associate The Jungle Book with Disney's beloved 1967 cartoon feature, but the barbershop quartet and Louis Prima jazz numbers don't exactly keep faith with Rudyard Kipling's original short stories, inspired by the British author's residence in India (although written in Vermont, of all places). Georgia Shakespeare's stage version, originally produced by The Orlando Shakespeare Theater, includes Indian pop flourishes, dancing with dandiya sticks, bits of Hindu terminology and appropriate costumes.

Overall, The Jungle Book feels like a small-scale equivalent to Julie Taymor's The Lion King, with the likes of Baloo the Bear (Jordan Craig) wearing mask-like crowns of their animal faces. The animal characters greet each other with "Namaste" and the musical number "One Blood" delivers a "Circle of Life"-style message about "sharing the world" and unity in the ecosystem. Predators like the wolves and Bagheera the persnickety panther (Brian Harrison) seem to get along with the herbivores, and the fearsome tiger Shere Kahn (Cordell Cole) comes across as an outlaw in his drive to get revenge on the human tribe and feed on an infant.

Wolves discover the abandon boy and raise him as "Mowgli" (Kyle Brumley, who has the puckish high spirits of a young, athletic Martin Short). "I'm the only one with twigs for paws," Mowgli laments of his differences with his wolf-cub siblings. Shere Kahn enlists the prankish primates to kidnap Mowgli, leading to seemingly endless monkey shines, with banana-phone jokes, audience interaction and corny one-liners like "I heard it through the ape vine." A little of the monkeys goes a long way. Mowgli's mother and the villagers make a surprisingly strong impression, given that usually the human characters serve as straight-men to the talking beasts.

Being basically a kid, Mowgli serves as something of a passive protagonist, but his travails propel the action smoothly from song to song. Directed by Allen O'Reilly The Jungle Book benefits from a fast pace and plenty of musical flow, with the script featuring a dozen songs (some of which, admittedly, aren't very long). Georgia Shakespeare's only misstep with The Jungle Book is a lousy-looking raptor puppet, which resembles a penguin painted the wrong colors. Otherwise The Jungle Book is easily the best of the family shows Georgia Shakespeare has been staging since 2006, although you might miss the voice of Phil Harris.

A Stunning Jungle Book
By Jayne Blanchard
October 4, 2007
Rudyard Kipling's moral fables about the laws of the jungle have been given generous dollops of Indian spice in Imagination Stage's exotic -- but in a kid-friendly way -- production of "The Jungle Book."
Collaborators April-Dawn Gladu and Daniel Levy have come up with musical numbers brightly sprinkled with Hindi words that capture the polyrhythmic complexities of East Asian music but also are accessible to children whose idea of catchy songs begins and ends with the Cheetah Girls. The far-off aura is furthered by Lori Clark's Indian-flavored percussive dances, performed on Ethan Sinnott's tropical set, rendered in emerald greens, peacock blues and saffron yellows.
Like the 1967 Disney movie of the same title, "The Jungle Book" concentrates on the "man-cub" Mowgli (Chris Wilson), adopted and raised by wolves after his mother is attacked by the tiger Shere Khan (Ray Ficca). Mother Wolf (Jeri Marshall) provides nurturing, while tutors Baloo (Sasha Olinick) the bear and Bagheera (Jenna Sokolowski) teach him about the jungle's ethical codes and how to survive in nature.
Although he gets plenty of love and support, Mowgli feels different and apart from his animal family. He has "twigs" instead of paws, no tail to flick, and has to fight with his wits rather than claws or sharp teeth. Mowgli's struggle to fit in ultimately results in the uniting of the human and animal worlds.
"The Jungle Book" charts Mowgli's growth in picaresque style as he travels through the jungle and encounters two chattery, joke-spewing monkeys (Nadya Chacon and Jenna Sokolowski, more fun than a barrel of you-know-whats playing a pair of rude, acrobatic apes who peel off such puns as "What's a snake's favorite subject? Hiss-tory."); a sinuous and hypnotic snake named Kaa (Jeri Marshall); and his nemesis, the aging and crafty Shere Kahn.
Mr. Wilson's Mowgli so convincingly straddles the species that you can acutely feel his discomfort and wonder when he enters a human village for the first time. Hunched over like an animal and sniffing everything in sight, Mowgli senses he is at home but still is endearingly at odds with things like tableware, oil lamps and food that comes in bowls.
"The Jungle Book" depicts the animal world with such vivid realism -- tinged with death and darkness -- that very small children might be frightened by the sounds and stylized violence. Luckily, these moments usually are leavened by anthropomorphic songs and dances that show a sunnier side of survival.
Imagination Stage's adaptation of "The Jungle Book" provides more than the bare necessities. It is an opulent, visually and aurally stunning glimpse into cultures that may be foreign to us but are achingly familiar in the universal quest to be loved and appreciated and to find the place where we most belong.
Maximum rating: Four Stars

Shakespeare Fest's exotic, inspiring 'Jungle Book' ventures far from Disney
by Kathy Lauer-Williams
Thursday, June 5, 2008
Give the kids a taste of Indian culture with a visit to the Pennsylvania Shakespeare FEstival's exotic "The Jungle Book." The play at DeSales University is filled with brightly colored, flowing costumes, lighting that evokes the leafy mystery of the jungle and a score of Indian-inspired songs built on the themes of inclusion, cooperation and respect for others.
Featuring as assortment of memorable characters - from the wide-eyed 11-year-old Mowgli to the hypnotic and dangerous Kaa the python - the tale may be a little scary at spots but is ultimately richly rewarding. It's definitely not the Disney version of the Rudyard Kipling story.

The animals are creatively portrayed with stylized gold headpieces and paws on the back of their hands