Set Designer Robbie Hayes uses the element of surprise– imagine wholeheartedly expecting to walk into a lush jungle scenery…and instead facing the broken-down back of a big-rig. What is a truck doing in the middle of the jungle? In fact, the truck IS the jungle, unfolding itself to reveal the tropical environment after the stranded driver is chased off by some playful monkeys. The frame of the transformed truck is then used as literal monkey-bars, with characters climbing up and around them. The setting represents both of Mowgli’s worlds; mankind and jungle, and the method is highly creative. The atmosphere is filled out with lighting designed by Brian S. Allard and sound design by Christopher Baine. Shadowed, speckled light patterns and sound effects like animal calls, crackling fires, and rhythmic drums work together to set the scene. Costumes by Pei Lee uses a mish-mash of patterns, colors, and fabrics to pull the animals together, and while some of them were great (try and keep your eyes off of Baloo’s big belly!), others came off as a bit too cartoonish for the dense scenery (I’m looking at you, monkey trio).
When Mowgli (Rafael Sebastian) is orphaned in the jungle as an infant, the wolf pack takes him in and raises him as one their own, mentored by a friendly bear named Baloo (James J. Johnson), and a watchful panther named Bagheera (Shravan Amin). Mowgli faces some problems as he grows older, not the least being that he is continually hunted by the threatening Bengal Tiger Shere Khan (Andrew Ferlo). When Mowgli begins to realize that he is exceedingly different from his family and peers, he sets out on a journey to find out where he truly belongs. Where will he end up? The result may surprise you.
One element of this production that particularly stood out to me was the movement, choreographed by Chitra Kalyandurg. The actors’ movements say as much about their character as their costumes– the big Baloo Lumbers, the silly monkeys are jumpy and quick, and Shere Khan strides with a cool, confident power. They all do impressive work, but Rafael Sebastian is the most striking as a human raised in the jungle. He somehow encompasses them all– hunching and raising his “hackles” as an angry wolf, swinging through the trees like a monkey, and climbing over obstacles with enviable agility. The actors are a talented group and all deliver wonderful performances – though Andrew Ferlo’s smug, swaggering portrayal of Shere Khan was my favorite. There are also some creative uses of puppetry throughout the show, which adds a unique layer of entertainment.
For a fun, family-friendly afternoon, I highly recommend taking the kids to see The Jungle Book at Adventure Theatre MTC. It’s lively, entertaining, and it packs an important life lesson all in under an hour.
Running Time: 55 minutes, without an intermission.