BWW Reviews: Adventure Theatre's THE JUNGLE BOOK is a Delight for Kids and Adults
At its best, children's theater provides more than a well-acted, well-told story and tuneful music. The best children's productions showcase creative and rhythmic dance, and provide a feast for the eyes through artistic and imaginative scenery and costumes. The Adventure Theatre Musical Theater Center's production of THE JUNGLE BOOK, based on Rudyard Kipling's classic tales, does all of those things, as well as invites little ones to think about serious topics, such as prejudice and trust. One song especially, "Wood and Water," about the "Red flower," which is what the jungle inhabitants call fire, would be at home in a sophisticated adult production.
Orphaned in the jungle of India as a baby, Mowgli the man-cub (at first played by an adorable marionette and later by the charming Rafael Sebastian) is adopted by a wolf pack, whose
members protect him from the evil tiger, Shere Khan (a glowering Andrew Ferlo). Baloo, a cuddly bear (Equity member James J. Johnson), and Bagheera, a panther (actor-comedian Shravan Amin), befriend Mowgli, and teach him to live by the Laws of the Jungle. The monkeys (Nadia Mahdi, Noopur Singha, and Shanta Parasuraman) lure Mowgli away and Kaa the python (Noopur Singha) rescues him -- only to let "inssssstinct" take over and almost cause Kaa to squeeze the life out of the young man. Meanwhile, Shere Khan is still stalking Mowgli, hoping to eat him.
THE JUNGLE BOOK, as adapted by Tracey Power and directed by Shirley Serotsky, who is also the Associate Artistic Director of Theatre J, is neither a live-action version of the Disney cartoon nor of Kipling's dark stories. The script sensitively handles the death of a villainous character, through narration and stylistic dance. Even the four-year-olds in the audience are unlikely to become unduly upset by what could have been a disturbing scene in less skilled hands.
The set, designed by Robbie Hayes, is a visual delight. At the beginning of the show, a colorfully decorated truck, built out of wooden planks, with a license plate that reads, "RK 1893-94," in homage to Kipling, sits alone on stage. As the story begins, a man tries to start the truck, but a group of monkeys in turquoise jackets chase him away. The monkeys engage in a stylized dance and open the sides and back of the truck to reveal the main set -- a beautiful sculpture of branches and trees that would be just as much at home in an art museum as on the stage of a children's theater. I would have loved a closer look at the brilliantly designed costumes and props, by Pei Lee and Dre Moore respectively, such as the colorful fish built partially from a swimming flipper, and the beautifully detailed wolf costumes, which included ears made from silver spatulas.
Choreographer Chitra Kalyandurg is an expert in the South Indian "Kuchipudi" dance style, and the dancing -- especially by the monkeys, the serpent, and the buffalo -- is as memorable as the decorative artistry. After the show, I spoke to dancer Noopur Singha, who plays Kaa the serpent and one of the monkeys. She said that she was cast after a dancing audition, and, as the show evolved, was given spoken lines, even though she had never acted before. I guessed from her skillful performance that Ms. Singha has significant dance training and experience, but her lack of an acting background was a surprise -- she succeeds in making Kaa both frightening and humorous at the same time.
The best theatrical productions keep the audience members thinking about the experience for days after the show. Adventure Theatre Musical Theater Center's production of THE JUNGLE BOOK is one that may do that, for both adults and children.
THE JUNGLE BOOK, recommended for children ages 4 and up, is appearing at Glen Echo Park, now through May 30, 2014. Tickets are $19 each, with group and field trip rates available, and can be purchased through the box office by calling 301-634-2270 or online at www.adventuretheatre-mtc.org. Sensory Friendly Performance Date: May 17 at 2:00pm.
Other members of the crew include Medha Marsten, Assistant Director; Mark Jaster, Movement Consultant; Brian Allard, Lighting Designer; Christopher Baine, Sound Designer; Donna Stout, Stage Manager; Julia Singer, Assistant Stage Manager; Karen Deans, Scenic Charge; John Rose-Caron, Master Electrician; Lauren Evans, Master Carpenter.