BWW REVIEW: 'THE JUNGLE BOOK' SWINGS IN BOSTON
Presented by Huntington Theatre Company and Goodman Theatre by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions; based on the Disney animated film and the stories of Rudyard Kipling; original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman; additional music and lyrics by Lorraine Feather and Paul Grabowsky, Terry Gilkyson, and Richard. M. Sherman; book and direction, Mary Zimmerman; choreography, Christopher Gattelli; music orchestration, supervision, adaptation and arrangement, Doug Peck; scenic design, Daniel Ostling; costume design, Mara Blumenfeld; lighting design, T.J. Gerckens; sound design, Joshua Horvath, Ray Nardelli, and André J. Pluess; production stage manager, M. William Shiner
Cast in Order of Appearance:
Peacock and others, Nikka Graff Lanzarone; Doe, Insect and others, Alka Nayyar; Akela and King Louie, André De Shields; Wolf and others, Timothy Wilson; Wolf and others, Victor Wisehart; Wolf and others, Nebi Berhane; Wolf, Vulture and others, Govind Kumar; Rama (a wolf) and others, Nehal Joshi; Bagheera, Usman Ally; Raksha (a wolf) and others, Anjali Bhimani; Shere Khan, Larry Yando; Insect and others, Monique Haley; Insect and others, Jeremy Duvall; Mowgli, Roni Akurati and Akash Chopra; Kaa and others, Thomas Derrah; Colonel Hathi and others, Ed Kross; Lieutenant George, Giddha (a vulture) and others, Geoff Packard; Baloo and others, Kevin Carolan; Little Girl, Glory Curda
Performances and Tickets:
Now through October 20, Huntington Theatre Company, BU Theatre, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston, Mass.; tickets range from $25-$135 and are available at the Box Office, online at www.huntingtontheatre.org or by calling 617-266-0800.There's no question that The Jungle Book, director Mary Zimmerman's vibrant musical staging of the classic Disney animated film based on the stories of Rudyard Kipling, is a real crowd pleaser. The co-production of the Goodman Theatre in Chicago and Huntington Theatre Company in Boston has passed The Combined 100-performance mark, broken all box office records at the Huntington, and been extended at the BU Theatre through October 20.
It's a dazzler, to be sure. Sets and costumes are bright and colorful, dance numbers are zesty and inventive, and the infusion of Indian instruments and rhythms into the beloved Sherman Brothers score makes old jazz and family favorites sound exhilarating and new. But once the novelty of Zimmerman's eye-and-ear popping fantasy world wears off, what's left is a story that simply doesn't grip the heart.
Zimmerman frames her stage adaptation of the familiar tale of the "man cub" Mowgli's adventures as if it were Kipling's storybook come to life. Fantastic Indian jungle flora and fauna spring from the page and engulf a young male reader in three dimensions. The boy then becomes Mowgli, stepping into the lush world his imagination has created. Once inside, he sets out on Mowgli's quest to stay in the jungle forever.
As with Kipling's book and especially the Disney animated film, The Jungle Book unfolds as a series of episodes marking Mowgli's encounters with various exotic animals. Raised by wolves when found abandoned in the jungle, Mowgli (Akash Chopra at the press performance) has been considered one of the pack's own since infancy. However, now that he is maturing, certain jungle leaders, especially Shere Khan (Larry Yando), the bitter old Bengal Tiger, see him as a threat. Some fear that Mowgli could one day turn against them, using the human weapons of guns and fire to destroy them. Thus Bagheera (Usman Ally), the wise and protective Black Panther, decides it's time for Mowgli to return to the "man village" where he belongs - before Shere Khan and others can kill him.
Mowgli refuses to join the humans and runs off into the jungle alone. There he meets Kaa (Thomas Derrah), a hungry, salivating snake who tries to hypnotize him into becoming a reptile repast by hissing "Trust in Me;" Colonel Hathi (Ed Kross), a blustering British imperialist who drills a pack of prancing pachyderms in the military "Colonel Hathi's March;" King Louie (André De Shields), the flamboyant orangutan who leads his swingin' troop of mischievous monkeys in a roof-raising "I Wanna Be Like You;" and Baloo (Kevin Carolan), an easy-going bear who teaches Mowgli the "Bare Necessities" of life.