I do not know why, but, I had the Disney version of Baloo singing, “just the Bear necessities” in my head as I entered the theatre and saw the children in costume behind the stage. We had to traverse the wolves and jackals then go around to find our seats. This is not the Disney version of “The Jungle Book,” by Rudyard Kipling and that is a good thing. The costumes reminded me of the ones in “The Lion King.” They were designed and made by hand by the very talented Margie Jervis and each character made the costume their own with their own personality.
Ellen Selby and Laura Connors Hull, the Co-Directors gave a more real, raw and honest version of the story, make no mistake, though, it is still full of fun and whimsy like you may expect. Margie was also the scene designer and with a simplistic style gave us just enough to create a jungle atmosphere and the children do a wonderful job with their animal like movements and sounds to fully complete the transformation. James Morrison utilized a unique lighting strategy to catch just the right mood for each scene and allow the audience to immerse themselves into the story.
Ellen Selby and Laura Connors Hull, the Co-Directors gave a more real, raw and honest version of the story, make no mistake, though, it is still full of fun and whimsy like you may expect.
The story follows the book and captures Kipling’s humanistic and sometimes bizarre style. Enola Danewitz is captivating from her introduction as Mowgli as she is meek at first with her character and we see her transform and mature throughout the story to an even more ominous, commanding adult. Will Stevenson as Baloo is a lovable side kick of a bear and is quite funny at times as well as a good singer and dancer. While Gabriela Simmons-Robles as Bagheera as Mowgli’s confidante like Baloo, however much more down to earth and parent like which at times is very endearing and touching.
The attention to detail is worth looking for and done well, with overlooked bees buzzing about, snakes slithering, and vines about in the background among the monkeys, wolves, jackals, birds and normal jungle fare. There is even a giant rhinoceros that bounds across the stage with its great might, but, yet, still friendly in the demeanor. Keep it simple must have been a tantamount rule as they have mastered the simple set designs, the simple representation of fire, the simple yet complex costume designs and it was all done quite successfully for it allowed my imagination to run wild and see the forest through the jungle.
I can see that this was a team effort and it looked like everyone on stage was having fun being whatever animal they were playing. Ka was such a sought-after role that they allowed Owen Thiebert and Miri Brooke to play the menacing snake as a two headed one which was a twist that worked. The bird that opened the play and virtually flew throughout was choreographed beautifully and graceful thanks to Matt Conner who was choreographer and composer. The play is close quarters as the monkeys at one point literally sit among the audience almost in their laps made me feel a part of the jungle scene. This personal space intrusion made the play more personal and engaging which made it that much easier to cheer for Mowgli and all the jungle animals in the end.
This version will certainly inspire children of all ages to enjoy musical theater as the children in the audience and a few adults tapped their feet and mouthed the words to sing along and enjoy the chorus and songs throughout. The storyline takes you on a roller coaster ride through the jungle, monkey land to the human village, chaos ensues, fire, a savior and then back to the jungle where surprisingly things are more in order, normal and human. Mowgli grows and matures throughout and learns about trustworthiness, courage, loyalty, following the rules and being a friend. The final song, “The Fire Inside You,” is an empowering sentiment about believing in yourself and it builds to an inspirational ending to inspirit a new beginning.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 20 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
“The Jungle Book plays through November 24, 2019, at Creative Cauldron, 410 S Maple Avenue, Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call the box office at 703-436-9948 or purchase them online.