Jungle Book Stunning At Huntington Theatre

A Visual and Musical Multigenerational Event

By: - Sep 19, 2013

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The Jungle Book
Music and Lyrics by Richard M. Sherman,
Robert B. Sherman, Lorraine Featherr
Paul Grabowsky and Terry Gilkayson
Book and Direction by Mary Zimmerman

Produced by the Goodman Theater in association with the Huntington Theater Company by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions.

André De Shields (Akela and King Louie), Usman Ally (Bagheera), Larry Yando (Shere Khan), Kevin Carolan (Baloo), Akash Chopka (Mowgli), Thomas Derrah (Kaa and Others), Ed Kross (Colonel Hathi and Others), Geoff Packard (Lieutenant George, Giddha and Others), Nikka Graff Lanzarone (Peacock and others), Alka Nayyar (Doe, Insect and Others), Timothy Wilson (Wolf and Others), Victor Wisehart (Wolf and Others), Govind Kumar (Wolf, Vulture and Others), Nehal Joshi (Rama and Others), Anjali Bhimani (Raksha and Others), Monique Haley (Insect and Others), Jeremy Duvall (Insect and Others) , Glory Curda (Little Girl), Roni Akurati (Mowgli Alternate).

Doug Peck (conductor, piano, harmonium), Neel Murgai (sitar, daff, overtone vocal),Saraswathi Ranganathan (veena), Anuradha Sridhar (carnatic violin), Victor Garcia (trumpet, snake trumpet, flugelhorn), Steven Duncan (trombone, tuba, snake trumpet), Nick Moran (reeds 1), Juli Wood (reeds 2), Shivalik Ghoshal (tablas, dholak), Ronnie Malley (ghattam, dholak, dhol, dumbek, percussion, oud), Sarah Allen (drums), Larry Kohut (bass), Heather Boehm (orchestra contractor).

Christopher Gattelli (choreography), Doug Peck (music director, music orchestrations, supervision, adaptation and arrangements), Daniel Ostling (scenic design), Mara Blumenfeld (costume design), T.J. Gerkens (lighting design), Ray Nardelli, Andre Pluess and Joshua Horvath (sound design), Alden Vasquez (production stage manager), Jamie Wolfe (stage manager), Hema Rajagopalan (Indian dance consultant)

At The BU Theatre of The Huntington Theatre Company

Sept 7-October 20, 2013

Opening with a nightshirted small boy reading a large book late at night, The Jungle Book takes us through a spectacular colorful dream/journey that tells a story of loss and belonging, searching for familial connections and becoming part of a community while staying an individual. This Huntington Theatre Company production is a magnificent multigenerational theatrical experience.

Director/Adaptor Mary Zimmerman has brought her own special creativity to The Jungle Book. She uses cleverly walking puppets to undulating pythons as tools of bold and beautiful as well as inspired stagecraft to frame and underscore the thoughtful fantasy and the often innocent and colorful fun of the Rudyard Kipling story.

As soon as the dream begins, we become enraptured by a visually enchanting jungle of gigantic Mughal (15th and 16th Century) style flowers and vines. This dense artistically-rendered foliage entwines with the action of the anthropomorphic creatures to add to the narrative vitality and the magical fantasy of the show. Here, flora and fauna visually reciprocate to create the colorfulness and liveliness of the story.

In Kipling's story, all of the creatures had human qualities intertwined with their very animal natures. This production wonderfully underscores this notion through costume, movement, music and even wordplay. The pack wolves are thoughtful and responsible, the panther (Baggy) is sensitive and nurturing, the elephants are militaristic and organized, the great Sloth Bear (Baloo) is bearlike yet affectionate and affable, etc.

Standout performances start with 11 year old Akash Chopka's incredible characterization of Mowgli. He is the epitome of the wolf-raised manchild. Not enough superlatives can be used to describe his bravura performance.

Other wonderful portrayals include André De Shields' jazz-spouting Akela and King Louie, Usman Ally's nurturing panther Bagheera, Larry Yando's limpimg old tiger Shere Khan, Kevin Carolan's party-hardy Baloo, and Thomas Derrah's undulating and hissing python Kaa. All members of the dancing and singing ensemble were wonderful as well.  

The music was an amalgam of Disney tunes (from the animated film), traditional Indian melodies and just a bit of Gilbert and Sullivan. All are passionately played to give rhythm and audio structure to the story. Musicianship, either on Western or Indian instruments, was superb. Every one  of the instrumentalists made the show rock. This was true especially of Juli Woods on various saxophones and Walt Bostian on trombone. Doug Peck's musical arrangement is continually smile-evoking.

The overall stagecraft of The Jungle Book is magical. The choreography by Christopher Gattelli gave moving punctuation to the narrative. Daniel Ostling's exquisite scenic design is a continual visual and color-filled delight. Sometimes the visual effects steal scenes by themselves. Mara Blumenfeld's costume designs are spellbinding and just right. T.J. Gerkens' mood-setting lighting design adds emphasis and focus. Everything seems to work harmoniously together.

A bit like a youthful growing up journey of the Where The Wild Things Are but without the angst and anger, this show could be a Broadway and traveling roadshow perennial like The Lion King. But The Jungle Book is much sweeter, more playful, less abstract and more warmly embracing.

Dialogue with Mary Zimmerman