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Monday, 25 June 2012 23:49

Beastly, but cute

Written by Bob Wilcox
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The Details

  • Director: Michael Hamilton
  • Dates: June 20-July 1, 2012
stagesstlouis.org
stagesstlouis.org

Rudyard Kipling, unofficial poet laureate of the British Raj, wrote a series of stories – moral fables, really – featuring anthropomorphized animals of India, plus the occasional human, that he called The Jungle Book. Its popularity has never waned for more than a century, and the stories have been adapted in multiple medias, in whole and in part, multiple times.

Walt Disney, always fond of anthropomorphized animals, produced his version, the last film he produced. He used the stories about the boy Mowgli, who was abandoned in the jungle and raised by wolves. Disney emphasized the comic elements in the story and the mortal threat to Mowgli from a man-eating tiger.

With theatres always looking for material that appeals to young audiences, Marcy Heisler has adapted Larry Clemmons' screenplay for the stage. She added some lyrics to the film's score by Disney regulars Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman plus Terry Gilkyson's song “The Bare Necessities.”

The wolves have disappeared from the stage version. Mowgli is in the care of a black panther named Bagheera, played by a kindly maternal Zoe Vonder Haar in the current Stages St. Louis production, with just enough panther-like moves throughout. She's trying to take Mowgli, played by a feisty Sam Poon, back to the nearest human village, safe from the tiger Shere Khan, a seductive and merciless Kari Ely. Steve Isom, as the avuncular bear Baloo, also watches over Mowgli, though he's willing to help the boy stay in the jungle and live the easy life, if that's what the boy wants.

Even with two keepers, Mowgli tends to wander away. He briefly attaches himself to a troop of elephants, commanded by Colonel Hathi, a veddy British John Flack. Bagheera the panther rescues him from a cobra that hypnotizes him – a three-part cobra made up of the sinuous Pamela Reckamp, Patrice Bell, and Ashtia Jewell. He's kidnapped by a band of monkeys led by their hip and cool King Louie. Frank Viveros is the king, Charlie Ingram and Scott Anthony Joy are his subjects Cheech and Chong. Finally, Bagheera and Baloo get Mowgli near enough to the human village for him to encounter young Shanti, the charming Sarah Koo. She's enough for Mowgli to be persuaded that he should be with the humans.

The Jungle Book is as episodic as this description sounds; characters appear simply because they happen to be in the jungle. Director Michael Hamilton and his cast manage to impose a consistent style on the proceedings, helped by Ellen Isom's inventive choreography, the colorful scenery of James Wolk, clever costumes by John Inchiostro, and lighting by Matthew McCarthy. Lisa Campbell Albert is the musical director and Stuart M. Elmore designed the synthesizers' orchestral score, which sounds better than usual. Because Stages' young people's shows consistently sell out their usual home at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in the Kirkwood Community Center, this production has been moved to the Skip Viragh Center for the Arts at Chaminade College Preparatory School. Wolk's set doesn't have to incorporate the set for Ain't Misbehavin'; and I don't know if it's the new location, but Elmore's synthesizers sound the best I've ever heard them.
 

Additional Info

  • Director: Michael Hamilton
  • Dates: June 20-July 1, 2012

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