The musical adaptation of the 1967 animated feature film, The Jungle Book, is a sheer delight, perhaps best viewed through the eyes of a child. And, the first production I ever took my young son to see was this same show a few years back. But, he was so small he didn't really remember it that well. So, the opportunity to see it again afforded me the perfect chance to reacquainted him with its many charms. Stages St. Louis's presentation didn't disappoint, providing a crisply paced production that fully captured my son's attention and imagination once again.
Young man-cub Mowgli, raised by wolves and protected by a panther named Bagheera, has arrived at a crucial point in his life. The fearsome tiger, Shere Khan is returning to the jungle, and his hatred for all things human places Mowgli in harm's way. Bagheera decides to take him to a village where other men and women live, but the journey is perilous, and at times, hilarious, as they work their way toward a final confrontation with the evil Khan.
Sam Poon does fine work as Mowgli, harmonizing nicely with Steve Isom on “The Bare Necessities”. Isom is warm and appealing as the lazy bear, Baloo, who becomes a kind of surrogate father to Mowgli when he runs away from Bagheera. Zoe Vonder Haar is very good as Bagheera, bringing out the feline qualities in the character with slinky assuredness. Kari Ely engages as Shere Khan, giving the villainous tigress the proper air of menace. Frank Viveros nearly steals the show as King Louie, the orangutan leader of the monkeys who has Mowgli snatched for his own purposes. His version of “I Wanna' Be Like You” is a sing-a-long highlight.
Pamela Reckamp, Patrice Bell and Ashtia Jewell contribute strong work manipulating the costume that represents the hypnotic snake, Kaa. Splendid three part harmony comes through during “Trust in Me”, as Kaa attempts to makes a meal out of Mowgli. Charlie Ingram and Scott Anthony Joy are a lot of fun as Cheech and Chong, a pair of monkeys who kidnap the boy for their leader. John Flack makes a good impression as the pompous and overbearing elephant chief, Colonel Hathi, and Sarah Koo is cute as Shanti, whose obvious appeal eventually wins Mowgli over to the thought of living with other humans.
Marc Heisler's adaptation of the script and lyrics of Richard Sherman, Robert Sherman and Terry Gilkyson combines with Bryan Louiselle's musical arrangements to produce a concise and fun packed experience that never drags. The familiar melodies are re-used in ingenious ways, and any dark or scary edges have been smoothed over for kid friendly consumption.
Michael Hamilton's direction is very well done, and on the expansive stage at Chaminade he's able to really make the show shine. Ellen Isom's clever choreography adds to the playful atmosphere on display. Matthew McCarthy's evocative lighting adds drama and lots of color. Michele Siler's costumes are clear representations of the different animal and human characters that any child should be able to recognize immediately. Lisa Campbell Albert's musical direction and Stuart Elmore's orchestral design are both solidly executed.
This fun production continues through July 1, 2012 at Chaminade.