Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Theater Review: The Jungle Book -- Huntington Theatre Company, Boston

Timothy Wilson (ensemble), Thomas Derrah (Kaa), and Akash Chopra (Mowgli) in Tony Award winner Mary Zimmerman’s new musical adaption of The Jungle Book. Photo: Liz Lauren

Lush New Musical Adaption of The Jungle Book Excites, Entertains
By Lauren Yarger
Spectacular flora and fauna bursting with color and size spring to life as a young boy is enticed away from his storybook by a giant peacock (Nikka Graff Lanzarone. So begins The Jungle Book in its newly adapted musical staging at Huntington Theater Company, winner of the 2013 Regional Tony Award, in Boston.

Huntington has partnered with the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, where the show ran prior to Boston, to bring Director Mary Zimmerman’s vision to life. The show is presented by special arrangement with Disney Theatricals.

Fans of Disney's animated film and of Rudyard Kipling's book on which it is based, will find favorite elements intact amid the amazing theatrical costumes and sets (Mara Blumenfeld and Daniel Osling, designers) that enhance the tale of a "man cub" named Mowgli (portrayed first by a puppet, then by Roni Akurati or Akash Chopra who share the role) who is raised by wolves in the deep jungle of India (lighting is by T.J. Gerckens).

As he grows, Mowgli leaves his wolf mother, Raksha (Anjal Bhimani) and the pack and makes other friends as he learns whom he can trust while avoiding ferocious tiger Sher Khan (Larry Yando), who wants to have Mowgli for dinner. Helping him along the way are black panther Bagheera (Usman Ally), who thinks Mowgli would be better off among his own kind, and Baloo (Kevin Carolan), an easy-going bear who helps keep an eye on the young boy and keep him safe from the likes of python Kaa (part puppet and part man played by Thomas Derrah) and a band of hyper monkeys and their leader, King Louie (a very amusing Andre DeShields).

Original music and lyrics by Richard M. Sherman and Robert B. Sherman ( the film) and Terry Gilkyson ("The Bare Necessities") is supplemented with additional jazzy music and lyrics by Lorraine Feather and Paul Grabowsky, Gilkyson and Robert Sherman. Musicians come right up out of the pit (in costume) to play for certain numbers, and a couple even fly in on a sort of tree-top platform to play Indian instruments.Doug Peck is the music director, orchestrator and conductor for the 14-member orchestra. Sound is designed by Joshua Horvath, Ray Nardelli and Andre J. Pluess.

And if the movement of the orchestra, along with cast members bounding up the aisles, Choreographer Christopher Gattelli (of the gymnastic Newsies and Godspell on Broadway) puts the large ensemble through its paces. Gattelli works with Indian dance consultant Hema Rajagopalan to combine elements of classical Indian dance forms with jazz and tap. One particularly fun number is an elephant march, with a bunch of ear-flopping, hornblowing pachyderms led in drill by Colonel Hathi (Ed Kross) and Lt. George (Geoff Packard). Some twirling butterflies are fun too, though a male insect, who I think is supposed to be a bee, also wears a skirt and is the only question mark of the evening.

Ticket demand has forced a second extension of the run of The Jungle Book at Huntington Theatre Company, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston, through Oct. 20. Tickets:; 617-266-0800; Avenue of the Arts / BU Theatre and South End / Calderwood Pavilion box offices.
Monique Haley (Elephant), Akash Chopra (Mowgli), Ed Kross (Colonel Hathi), and Anjali Bhimani (Baby Elephant) with the rest of Colonel Hathi’s elephant army. Photo: Liz Lauren

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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