BWW Review: THE JUNGLE BOOK, A MUSICAL IS ENTERTAINING, IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE at Carrollwood Players Theatre
Seldom does a reviewer get to see "behind the curtain," the director's enthusiastic vision of the set carefully sketched in a notepad long before it becomes an actual intricate tiered wooden platform or the director painstakingly folding pieces of paper together that would eventually be black lit painted, lighted and turned into the faces of the animals that would be called the jungle home.
On Friday, the painted paper puppets that I saw months ago from director Drew Eberhard came to reality as masks on top of hats on the heads of the actors.
Besides Jekyll and Hyde, the set of The Jungle Book, A Musical at Carrollwood Player is one of my favorites to date. Drew and set builders John Cammareri, Lauren Wellinger, Kate Swan and cast, set dresser Shirley Overton, and props masters Barbara Trask and Bonnie Zayas outdid themselves. Not an inch of the set wasn't taken into consideration. From the tiered platform stage, hand-painted animal portraits adorning all walls to bamboo and greenery on the side rails to moss hanging from the ceiling, the audience is instantly immersed into the wild jungle atmosphere.
The musical follows the adventures of Mowgli, raised in the jungle, and introduces the audience to the different animals he meets as he grows up and comes to the realization he is different than his jungle family.
The magical sound effects by foley artist Brian McCreight only adds to the ambiance. The puppet masks and puppets designed by Ashley Ryan Lord and costumes by Deborah Lastinger and Bonnie Zayas bring the well-paced tale vividly to life. The black light makeup by Drew, Brandy Jacob-Gold, Rei Capote and cast tie all the pieces together while the visually striking, spectacular set is complemented by an equally talented cast, both vocally and in their acting ability.
Seth Black-Diamond is enchanting as the spunky young boy, Mowgli who is adopted by the wolf Raksha, Chonesty Montgomery, exceptional in the role. Mowgli is treated like her cub and taught the ways of the jungle by the jovial, carefree bear Baloo (Jason Abreau, who was making his Carrollwood Players and musical debut.) Jason brings just the right mix of frivolity and seriousness to the puppet and the role.
Speaking of silliness, the team of agile acrobatic monkeys are incredibly amusing to watch perform the rollicking choreography. It truly feels like the monkeys are having as much fun as the audience.
Joel Ferrer (Akela) makes a worthy wolf pack leader. His tender performance in "To the Rock" makes you glad he wasn't forced to give up his life.
Trevor Rockwell Salmon commands the stage as the menacing tiger Shere Khan. "The World is Wild" showcases his powerful vocals.
Sonali Balan is mesmerizing as the large and long slithering snake Kaa, who holds the animals and the audience in her hypnotic gaze.
One of the most memorable performances of the night is a goosebump-worthy duet between Mowgli's human and wolf mothers, Lena Morisseau (Messua) and Chonesty. You could feel both the love and heartbreak of one mother losing her child and another being reunited in "The Two Mothers (Love's Vital Beat").
Every viscerally-affecting piece of The Jungle Book musical making its North American debut was well-thought-out and executed to perfection. Drew, musical director Camille Sanabria and choreographer Alexa Roberts, cast and crew should be proud to add this dynamic show to their resume.