BWW Interviews: Mary Zimmerman Brings the Beat of THE JUNGLE BOOK to Life
Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman (Metamorphoses) is currently staging her fanciful adaptation of The Jungle Book - based on Rudyard Kipling's 1893 collection of stories and Walt Disney's 1967 animated film - at the Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. This world premiere musical debuted in June at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago to generally positive reviews and continues in Boston through October 13, already extended one week beyond its initially announced run.
The Jungle Book brings Zimmerman back to the Huntington Theatre Company where she has been lauded for her stirring productions of Journey to the West, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Candide. The latter earned her both the IRNE and Norton Awards for Best Director of a Musical. For The Jungle Book, Zimmerman is reunited with her Candide music director Doug Peck and is joined by Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli (Newsies, Godspell, South Pacific). New lyrics are being written by Richard Sherman, Academy Award-winning composer and lyricist who with his brother Robert wrote more than 150 songs for Disney films plus the original scores to The Jungle Book, Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The multi-cultural cast blends long-time Zimmerman collaborators with newcomers, including 10-year-old Akash Chopra as Mowgli, the young "man cub" at the center of the story. Other cast members are Usman Ally as Bagheera, the panther; Elena Flores as Raksha, the Mother Wolf; Keven Carolan as Baloo the bear; Glory Curda as the Little Girl; Thomas Derrah as Kaa, the snake; Tony Award winner Andre De Shields as King Louie the orangutan; Nehal Joshi as Rama, a wolf leader; Larry Yando as Shere Khan the tiger; and ensemble members Jeremy Duvall, Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Monique Haley, Ed Kross, Govind Kumar, Alka Nayyar, Timothy Wilson, and Victor Wisehart. Goeff Packard (who played the title role of Candide at the Huntington) is also featured.
Supported with seed money by Disney Theatricals but produced independently by The Goodman Theatre and the Huntington Theatre Company, The Jungle Book is not scheduled for a Broadway run at this time. BroadwayWorld.com caught up with Zimmerman by phone during a break from final tech to discuss her vision for the show and the particular challenges involved in bringing a beloved, but dated, book and animated classic to the stage in the 21st century. Excerpts from that interview, edited for clarity, follow:
BWW: So, the first burning question is "Why The Jungle Book?" What did you see as the compelling reason for adapting this to the stage?
MZ: Well, I'm always seeking the experience of making a show that's challenging, and this is very challenging. The film had a visual apparatus that is incredibly familiar to millions of people, so that drew me. Also the setting of India draws me very much, and the story itself. It's the story of leaving childhood essentially, and I was drawn to the melancholy that's in it as well as the great joy. Primarily, though, I love the challenge. I love something new that I perceive is going to be potentially difficult to solve. I like that. I'm always after that.