'Jungle Book', A New Adaptation

Young People's Theatre

YPT Site

Joe Szekeres

I’m hoping I’m not that old in pointing out how we’ve all watched the dancing, singing and cuteness version of Disney’s ‘The Jungle Book’. Whenever I’ve seen the film advertised on television, it’s always Baloo’s memorable ditty to Mowgli, “Look for the Bare Necessities”.

There’s nothing wrong with this adaptation as it introduces Rudyard Kipling’s stories of Mowgli, the wolf boy, to new audiences.

However, don’t allow Disney to be the only experience you have of this story.

An exciting, colourful and eye-catching production of ‘Jungle Book’ from creators Craig Francis and Rick Miller opened at Young People’s Theatre with theatrical flair and musical excitement right from the top of the show. According to the release, this production is part of a North American tour after a recent appearance in New York. Four rousing actors entered grandly from the house and moved their way down to the stage in a fanfare of audience participation that even the adults around me clapped along in fun filled unison with the kids.

And I was taken on a wild adventure ride through an immersive technology and multimedia to the urban jungle of Mowgli’s childhood in the forests of India.

I loved every minute of it and am pleased it’s playing here for just over a month. For me, this touring production was magical as it took me back fondly to my childhood when I first read Rudyard Kipling’s tale.

The set design consisted of three see through scrims. Behind the scrims, there is a large rectangular raised platform with a large white hanging screen which I’m assuming will be to view projections throughout the show. Rebecca Picherack’s lighting design was fascinating at the top of the show as the swirl of red and green was intriguing to watch. The reflection through the scrim made it appear as if water was nearby.

Irina Litvinenko’s multimedia designs are exquisite to the eyes. Ms. Litvinenko’s work in capturing the fast-paced world of New York City where the adult Mowgli (Levin Valayil) is an architect is exquisite. The multimedia designs colourfully and cleverly place us in the richness verdant jungle where such characters as Shere Khan, Bagheera and Kaa inhabit and roam. What is also remarkably dazzling to watch are the use of puppets co-designed by Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill. I’ve always been fascinated with puppetry as part of theatre, and the extraordinary creations of these two women is astounding. Make sure you pay careful attention to Tahirih Vejani as Kaa, the snake. With the puppet, she slithers in front of the audience with the elongated ‘s’ sound sinisterly sibilating in her voice as the puppet slithers in front of the audience at one point.

Under a guiding vision of dignity for life in co-direction by Messrs. Francis and Miller, this ‘Jungle Book’ gently balances the theme of Respect in exploration of the consequences of colonialism and continuing human domination of the animal world. The four principal ensemble players merrily bring to life (through songs by composer Suba Sankaran and clever lyrics by Kipling/Miller and Francis) several of the famous characters whom we have come to know. Levin Valayil is a charming and affable adult and architect Mowgli who leaps and moves around the stage with gusto. And can he ever sing and hold a musical note. I especially liked Mr. Valayil’s work in the adorable young boy puppet of Mowgli. I heard some audience members around me along with some children utter and affectionate, “Aaaahhhh”.

Matt Lacas becomes a comfortable, genial teddy bear as Baloo, the sloth bear. His relationship with the young Mowgli in teaching him to become more than just a wolf boy is sweet. As the panther, Bagheera, who is out to protect the young Mowgli, Mina James is solid in her work as she contorts her body to an animalistic pose in the puppetry costume she dons.

FINAL COMMENTS: There is rapturous joy in this ‘Jungle Book’. It’s a definite go to and must see for the family. It’s here for Family Day and the March Break, perfect for day or evening shows.

Performance runs approximately 65 minutes. There will be some Q and A sessions following certain shows.

Photo of Levin Valayil as the adult Mowgli by Rick Miller.

JUNGLE BOOK
Runs on the Mainstage to March 21 at Young People’s Theatre, 165 Front Street East. For tickets, call the Box Office (416) 862-2222 or visit www.youngpeoplestheatre.org.

Written & Directed by Craig Francis & Rick Miller. Adapted from the Works of Rudyard Kipling. Produced by Kidoons and WYRD Productions in association with The 20K Collective.

Creative Team:
Co-creator/Director/Stage Manager (select performances: Craig Francis); Co-creator/Director/Production Manager: Rick Miller; Production Manger/Technical Director: James Kendal; Stage Manager: Andrew Dollar; Set/Costume/Props Puppets Co-Designers: Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeill; Lighting Designer: Rebecca Picherack; Multimedia Designe: Irina Litvinenko; Sound Designer/Composer: Debashis Sinha; Puppetry Consultant: Frank Meschkuleit; Song Lyrics: Kipling/Miller/Francis; Original Song Composer: Suba Sankaran; Shadow Puppetry Consultant: Eric Woolfe; Fight Consultant: Siobhan Richardson;

Cast: Mina James, Matt Lacas, Levin Valayil, Tahirih Vejdani

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