The Jungle Book at the Children’s Theatre Co.

H. Adam Rapp, Eric Sharp and Casey Hoekstra in The Jungle  Book

H. Adam Harris, Eric Sharp and Casey Hoekstra in The Jungle Book

The Children’s Theater Company’s intimate Cargill Stage serves as an ideal space to tell the story of The Jungle Book. The story, based on the book by Rudyard Kipling, about a boy who comes to be raised by wolves and befriend many beasts of the wild jungle in his journey to find meaning and understand his identity, is a pure adventure that thrives mainly on the dangers and joys of its setting. Although not without its flaws, this new play, adapted and energetically directed by Greg Banks, created a fun, exciting, and immersive experience, for audience members young and old.

The show’s five performers give expressive and physical performances, providing larger than life personalities fitting to the nature of this tall tale. Across the board, their energy is immense and carries the show, from the childlike charm of Eric Sharp as Mowgli, to the affectionate and bumbling H. Adam Harris as Baloo. Each of the five performers, outside of Mowgli, play a wide array of characters. Casey Hoekstra is effectively threatening as Shere Kahn and then silly and rambunctious as a troublesome monkey. Nastacia Nicole is loving and maternal as the wolf mother, and then slithers as the hypnotic snake, Kaa. Autumn Ness plays the black panther Bagheera with both singing affection and dangerous cunning, and then cracks jokes as a geriatric vulture. There is little to distinguish between characters outside of the actors’ expressions and some costuming, but they so effectively embody their various roles that there is never a moment of confusion. Bravo to all.

A special kudos is warranted for Victor Zupanc, who employs a myriad of instruments to single-handedly provide the show with its playful and effective score. Additionally, the production’s values are top-notch. The costume design (by Alison Siple) is impressive–the costumes, though fairly simple, allow the performers to jump between various characters with ease and are playful and imaginative. Similarly splendid was the set, designed by Joseph Stanley, who crafted a playground for its performers and eliminated barriers between its action and its audience, allowing the setting to creep its way over its spectators and invite them to become invested in its thrills.

Those thrills, it must be said, may be a bit too much for littler ones. There are desparate situations, battles, and hardships that carry a palpable sense of danger and incited real fear in a handful of young spectators at the performance we attended. For grade-schoolers, however, the show’s darker elements will undoubtedly make for an engrossing experience.

On the other hand, for adults attending the show, the plotting may grow a teeny bit tedious. While each chapter of the story carries its own joys, they feel slightly episodic and a tad drawn out. Like its protagonist, the show follows its whims and as a result feels occasionally unfocused. The story is not overplotted, but its characters are tasked with retrospectively speaking its lessons. For kids, this might be helpful, but for adults it serves to disengage.

Regardless, it is an immersive experience that is, in many ways, a delight.

David and Chelsea review movies on their site Movie Matrimony.

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