BWW Review: JUNGALBOOK Enchants The Kleberg Stage At ZACH
Adventure awaits in a jungle where danger lurks in every tree and only the brave dare enter! This energetic and creative version of the classic tale ignites imagination and propels the audience through a world ruled by the wild. When her parents are killed by Sherakahn, the young Humancub is raised by wolves, under the protection of her friends Bagheera and Baloo. In this tale of loyalty and betrayal, the Humancub must find the courage to face this challenge and choose her fate under consequences of jungle law.
From the moment we walk into The Kleberg, we can feel the magic in the air. The sounds of the jungle are inviting, the simple but clever set design conveys a message of harmony with nature, and a projection screen as the main backdrop, encourages us to use our imagination as we travel from Austin to the world of JUNGALBOOK.
The plays starts with Baloo the bear, beautifully played by John Christopher, as he sings "One Blood". In a soulful voice, he tells us a story that teaches respect for all living things, love for friends and family, and the courage to do what is right, no matter the personal sacrifice.
After saving a human baby from the vicious paws of Sherakahn, the thoughtful panther Bagheera entrusts the child to Akela, mother wolf and leader of the pack. As the story continues, we find Humancub (Chloe Van De Graaf) grown up, interacting and playing with the pack of wolves and her best friend, Perchy the monkey (Samantha Beam). From the constant threat posed by Sherakahn, who is still trying to claim her life, to the slithering and mesmerizing creatures of the jungle, Humancub is always in danger. She is fearless yet fragile, but her protectors and friends are always there to keep her safe. Growing up with the pack of wolves, Humancub believes herself one of them, a wolf like her brother and sister, a bear like her friend Baloo. However, when she finally confronts the beast that has been hunting her all her life, it is her humanity, wits, and determination, that save her and the ones she loves the most.
There is a familiarity with the characters that hits home in different ways with each actor. Freddy Franklin plays Bagheera with a gentleness that reminds me of my grandfather. His panther-like moves are cunning but subtle, as to not threaten the Humancub he so fiercely protects. The wonderful Amber Quick as Sherakahn, is the embodiment of a cat. She walks and talks with the same air of arrogance and superiority that is visible in real cats roaming around the prey. Lara Wright gives Akela the tenderness that brings us all home. Her steady voice and soft demeanor, projects a sense of safety and belonging that only a leader of the pack could impart.
The play has wonderful moments along the 45-minute run with noticeable performances by the young actors of ZACH's pre-professional company. Chloe Van De Graaf, the star of last season's MATILDA, commands the stage with a delightful performance as the impossible heroine that every child dreams to be. There is a genuine family bond between Humancub and Baloo, one that warms the heart every time they are together on stage. One young actor to notice is Samantha Beam. She portrays several characters, all of which are unique and complex, yet she manages to deliver each one of them with impeccable comedic timing, energetic physicality, and artistry that is beyond her years. Rounding up the group of pre-professional company members are Araya Feeney and Bruce Bowen. Both actors deliver their multiple roles with simplicity and confidence, exuding the level of professionalism that is characteristic of ZACH's pre-professional program.
Puppetry, music, and masterful storytelling make JUNGALBOOK an entertaining yet meaningful play for all ages. The short length, colorful characters, and an unexpected heroine, keep the little ones engaged, and the rest of us mesmerized from beginning to end. Whether you have a little one in the family or you are a little one at heart, you should run to see JUNGALBOOK. This is a story that everyone can enjoy.
A retelling of Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli stories, JUNGALBOOK is adapted by Edward Mast and directed by Associate Artistic Director Nat Miller with original music by Allen Robertson.
Austin has abundance of young talent and some of the roles in JUNGALBOOK are double and triple cast! Leading the pack as the Humancub are CHLOE VAN DE GRAAF, BLAKENEY MAHLSTEDT, and RYLIE SHIEH triple cast in the role. JUNGALBOOK also stars additional pre-professional students STELLA FRYE-GINSBERG and ARAYA FEENEY as Grey/Kaa/Ensemble; BRUCE BOWEN and MERCY BOVIK as Grab/Elephant; SAMANTHA BEAM and PAIGE RILEY as Perchy/Chil/Hyena/Elephant; with Understudies WILKES GOODNER for Humancub and SLOANE JOHNSON and ABIGAIL STORM for Grey/Grab/Perchy/Ensemble. Rounding out the adult cast: Amber Quick as Sherakhan; Lara Wright as Akela; FREDDY FRANKLIN as Bagheera; John Christopher as Baloo; with SUSANNAH CROWELL and OMAR LEWIS as Understudies.
JUNGALBOOK is now playing at The Kleberg at ZACH (1421 W. Riverside Drive | Austin, TX 78704), September 7 - December 14, 2019.
Tickets start at $19 (Youth) and $27 (Adult); available at the ZACH Box Office (512) 476-0541, x 1; zachtheatre.org
For more information: http://zachtheatre.org/jungalbook