Wednesday, September 25, 2013

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

Akash Chopra (Mowgli) and Kevin Carolan (Baloo) 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: huntingtontheatre.org; 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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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the 2000 Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com and is a theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer. She previously served as Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

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All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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