BWW Reviews: JUNGALBOOK at Sam Bass Showcases Young Talent
If you attend Jungalbook, currently running at Sam Bass Theatre, leave your memories of the Disney movie at the door. The stage adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's short stories, written by Edward Mast, differs greatly from the iconic Disney film and from the original Kipling stories. While Kipling takes his inspiration from the jungles of India, Mast finds inspiration in children and their world. It's fitting then, that the Sam Bass Youth Guild would produce Mast's adaptation. It may not be Disney, but given the talent of the young cast, who cares?
Textually, Jungalbook is faithful to Kipling's tales of Mowgli, the young boy raised in the jungle by a pack of wolves and mentored by Baloo, the bear. Kipling's themes of morality, social hierarchy, and self-discovery are all still here. What makes Mast's version so different is his request that the story be staged on a jungle gym set, brilliantly realized in this production by set designer Lindsay Snyder. The unexpected setting is exploited to brilliant effect by director Nelly Light. This is no longer a jungle of hunters and hunted, predators and prey. It's now an almost Lord of the Flies-like world where bullies can exert their power and control to dangerous effect. Once again, forget Disney. This is one dark jungle.
As the material smartly blurs the lines between manmade and natural worlds, the performers do the same. They're not entirely animalistic and not entirely human. The fact that youth performers can understand and execute such a concept is commendable. While the entire ensemble does well with creating characters out of interesting movement styles and vocal choices, a pair of the supporting players stand out for their excellent performances. Alyssa Fields gives the character of Kaa, the snake, a fluid movement quality and a slow, hissing drawl, resulting in an appropriately sinister and creepy feel, and Micah McKee is wonderfully evil as the villainous and boisterous tiger, Sherakhan, played here as an intimidating schoolyard bully.
As Akela, Mowgli's wolf mom, Tessa Demings shows that she's a young performer to watch. Akela's a leader who demands respect, even when her strength diminishes with age. Like her character, Demings has a commanding presence about her. It's impossible not to focus on her, and if her acting chops are this well-defined at such an early age, one can only wonder with anticipation as to where she'll go from here. The same can be said of the production's Mowgli, Michael Parrella. Parrella plays the role with a spirited energy, exuberance, and curiosity. He also gives Mowgli a strong dose of arrogance and a cocky smirk, both nice touches that contrast well with moments where he gets to show Mowgli's more innocent or vulnerable side.
It may be Mast's concept that gives Jungalbook its style, but it's the performers that truly bring it to life. Most youth theater programs would struggle with this material, but Sam Bass Youth Guild isn't like most youth theater programs. If you want to see quality youth theater, a trip to this jungle gym is in order.
Running time: Approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.
JUNGALBOOK plays Sam Bass Community Theatre (600 N. Lee St, Round Rock) now thru August 16th. Performances are Thursday - Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $8-$18. For tickets and information, please visit www.sambasstheatre.org