Monday, July 18, 2011

'Jungle Book' provides more than bare necessities

Posted By on Mon, Jul 18, 2011 at 1:57 PM

A hint of Bollywood razzle-dazzle energizes Georgia Shakespeare's family series production of The Jungle Book. Audiences probably associate The Jungle Book with Disney's beloved 1967 cartoon feature, but the barbershop quartet and Louis Prima jazz numbers don't exactly keep faith with Rudyard Kipling's original short stories, inspired by the British author's residence in India (although written in Vermont, of all places). Georgia Shakespeare's stage version, originally produced by The Orlando Shakespeare Theater, includes Indian pop flourishes, dancing with dandiya sticks, bits of Hindu terminology and appropriate costumes.

Overall, The Jungle Book feels like a small-scale equivalent to Julie Taymor's The Lion King, with the likes of Baloo the Bear (Jordan Craig) wearing mask-like crowns of their animal faces. The animal characters greet each other with "Namaste" and the musical number "One Blood" delivers a "Circle of Life"-style message about "sharing the world" and unity in the ecosystem. Predators like the wolves and Bagheera the persnickety panther (Brian Harrison) seem to get along with the herbivores, and the fearsome tiger Shere Kahn (Cordell Cole) comes across as an outlaw in his drive to get revenge on the human tribe and feed on an infant.

Wolves discover the abandon boy and raise him as "Mowgli" (Kyle Brumley, who has the puckish high spirits of a young, athletic Martin Short). "I'm the only one with twigs for paws," Mowgli laments of his differences with his wolf-cub siblings. Shere Kahn enlists the prankish primates to kidnap Mowgli, leading to seemingly endless monkey shines, with banana-phone jokes, audience interaction and corny one-liners like "I heard it through the ape vine." A little of the monkeys goes a long way. Mowgli's mother and the villagers make a surprisingly strong impression, given that usually the human characters serve as straight-men to the talking beasts.

Being basically a kid, Mowgli serves as something of a passive protagonist, but his travails propel the action smoothly from song to song. Directed by Allen O'Reilly The Jungle Bookbenefits from a fast pace and plenty of musical flow, with the script featuring a dozen songs (some of which, admittedly, aren't very long). Georgia Shakespeare's only misstep with The Jungle Book is a lousy-looking raptor puppet, which resembles a penguin painted the wrong colors. Otherwise The Jungle Book is easily the best of the family shows Georgia Shakespeare has been staging since 2006, although you might miss the voice of Phil Harris.

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