‘The Jungle Book’ at Creative Cauldron

Olivia Laurine’s fantastic performance as Mowgli, plus original music and artful masks, make for an absolutely mesmerizing rendition of The Jungle Book at Creative Cauldron in Falls Church, VA.

Baloo (Max Belmar), Mowgli (Olivia Laurine, and Bagheera (Shannon Rodgers). Photo by Gary Mester.
Baloo (Max Belmar), Mowgli (Olivia Laurine), and Bagheera (Shannon Rodgers). Photo by Gary Mester.

The Cauldron has cooked up an inventive production of the 120-year-old classic tale by Rudyard Kipling complete with a two-headed snake.

“But don’t expect something like Disney’s Jungle Book,” said Laura Connors Hull, who conceived and directed this magical musical along with Ellen Selby and Matt Conner. I agree. This is much more immersive. For example, it opens with more 26 wolves and wolf cubs circling around, almost touching noses with the audience in the front row. They are really fierce and really cute at the same time.

The cast is led by 11-year-old Olivia Laurine of Dunn Loring, VA. She ably portrays the lost boy Mowgli, who is taken in by the wolf pack. She delivers an incredible number of lines with poise well beyond her years. This tough/adorable girl plays a strong Mowgli with great facial expressions, especially when recovering from a taunt from the animals or bad day with the villagers. Her adults might gently coach her to curb her (very) occasional tendency moving her lips to others’ lines, as this smart young person has clearly memorized the entire show!

Mowgli’s jungle rescuer is Bagheera the panther, solidly performed by Shannon Rodgers, who is right-on with her many lines that carry the narrative. She has a nice singing voice.

Mowgli “is a man’s cub, and a man’s cub must learn the laws of the jungle,” says his self-appointed teacher, Baloo, a bear portrayed dancingly by Max Belmar, who capably exhibits a range of emotions, especially when Mowgli goes missing.

The wolves are led by Samuel Dykes as Father Wolf, Laura Duffet as Mother Wolf and Emma Hill as Akeela, who does really good canine movements.

The original music and lyrics are composed by Conner and lyricist Stephen Gregory Smith, both products of the renowned Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, VA. I liked the way Smith wove some of William Blake’s lines from The Tyger into the song “Tiger, Tiger,” about Shere Khan (played fearsomely by Kristen Hornbuckle), the tiger who frightens the animals and the villagers alike when he increases his hunting grounds.

The young actors in the ensemble have a really good time with the song “Monkey See, Monkey Do.”

Said Hull, “In this immortal tale, the jungle is an appropriate metaphor for the experience of growing into adulthood. Like Mowgli, you must find your pack and be true to it when you do. You may fall into the wrong company (aka monkeys) sometimes, but if you have understanding and nurturing mentors (like Baloo and Bagheera) you will survive.”

A real scene stealer is the world-music-themed song “Sticks and Stones” by the two-headed snake. It sounded like it featured a duduk, the haunting Armenian woodwind. Like that double-reeded instrument, Morgan Beltson and Maya Wrona’s voices are nicely matched, as are their uncannily synchronous movements. The lights dim and the room is filled with specks of prismatic green and laser red as the music reaches a crescendo and they capture a monkey with their tail. Kisha Kenyatta’s Creative Cauldron debut performance of the writhing monkey is scary-good.

Another adult in the show, E. Augustus Knapp as the pith-helmeted hunter Buldeo, gives great comic relief when he keels over as the wolf Akeela attacks him at Mowgli’s command. He really looks the part with his own mutton-chop sideburns.

Amelia Magee is menacing as Tabaqui the jackal and Owen Hacker is articulate as the Priest.

The animal masks are made by Margie Jervis, a former sculptor for the Seattle Opera, and it shows. They yellow eyes of the furry-headed wolves are spellbinding. Built on baseball caps, they are eminently wearable by actors who must breathe and project, which they do through a half-armature of sculpted wire mesh. Besides the snake with his huge, glittering red eyes, there is an antelope with whorled antlers, a big rhino, a bird, a bat, and a band of monkeys, and all of them are fantastic.

Mowgli (Olivia Laurine) with the Wolf Pack (Ensemble). Photo by Gary Mester.
Mowgli (Olivia Laurine) with the Wolf Pack (Ensemble). Photo by Gary Mester.

Jervis also designed the multi-tiered set, which is like a tree house, especially with the serrated leaf shadows projected on the vine-like vertical elements and the background scrim in the lush lighting scheme designed by John Sami, a graduate student at George Mason University, and run by Lighting Assistant Emma Knapp. Jervis’s costumes for the Village Women looked like something out of National Geographic.

The whole experience is augmented by a purchased jungle soundscape. The generous show sponsors were Art and Frame of Falls Church and Sislers Stone, located by an old quarry right across Rt. 29 from the theater in a funky section of Falls Church that features quite a few reasonable restaurants and a bowling alley.

The young actors involved with this technically creative show are lucky to be part of Creative Cauldron’s pack. Learning Theater is a multi-generational workshop that offers  a unique opportunity to perform with seasoned professional actors who serve as mentors during the run of a show.

They ensemble is also composed of Wolves (Hannah Anacko, Madeleine Aykens, Morgan Beltson, Matthew Bloss-Baum, Piper Boatwright, Abigail Boatwright, Libby Brooke, Juliana Chavez, Elena Clark-Wilson, Deven Hagen, Owen Hacker, Nora Hill, Champe Mitchell, Erika Nielsen, Samantha Russell, Marissa Seiken, Rowan Smith, Sania Starnes, Kisha Kenyatta, and Maya Wrona); Wolf Cubs (Madeline Aldana, Miri Brooke, Ava Feldstein and Caden Mitchell), Emma Hill as Akela, Bees (Madeline Aldana, Ava Fedlstein and Caden Mitchell), Elena Clark-Wilson as Mang, Kisha Kenyatta as Haithi, Abigail Boatwright as Rann, Matthew Bloss-Baum as Deer, Monkeys (Madeline Aldana, Hanna Anacko, Matthew Bloss-Baum, Piper Boatwright, Libby Brooke, Miri Brooke, Juliana Chavez, Ava Feldstein, Deven Hagen, Owen Hacker, Nora Hill, Kisha Kenyatta, Champe Mitchell, Caden Mitchell, Erika Nielsen, Marissa Seiken, Sania Starnes, and Rowan Smith); Cobra (Deven Hagen and Rowan Smith); Madeleine Aykens as Grey Brother, Village Women (Juliana Chavez and Samantha Russell, Marissa Seiken and Sania Starnes); and Village Elders (Matthew Bloss-Baum, Nora Hill, Champe Mitchell, and Erika Nielsen).

Creative Cauldron’s The Jungle Book is a fantastic experience for the entire family. Run and buy tickets!

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

jungle-book-banner

The Jungle Book runs through March 29, 2015 at Creative Cauldron at ArtSpace Falls Church – 410 South Maple Avenue, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (703) 436-9948, or purchase them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1551.gif