‘The Jungle Book – the Musical’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by November 24, 2017

‘The Jungle Book – the Musical’ is a lively musical based on the collected stories of Rudyard Kipling, from the book of the same name. The groovy script has been adapted for the stage by Dundee comic artist, Andrew Strachan who was also responsible for the catchy music, and the fun lyrics.

This 150-minute, fun-filled comedy – almost in the style of a pantomime – has brought pleasure to millions of children around Europe. This production is for both the young (over 5) and young at heart.

The Darlington Players at the Marloo Theatre, Marloo Road, Greenmount are presenting the performances on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights at 8.00 pm, until the 9th December. There is a Sunday matinée at 2.00 pm.

 

Scene is an Indian jungle in 1890.

The remarkable and stunning set was designed and constructed by Owen Davies. Yvonne Miller and Belinda Beatty supplied the numerous props. An outside scene is very difficult to present convincingly, two metres of plastic ivy and three pathetic pot plants are very common. Centre stage, this set had a tree with a girth of five metres; it had a hole half way up, large enough to hold three youngsters. There was a four-metre branch, which could hold two adults. Higher up the tree were several holes where faces appeared and tropical birds looked out. There were lianas hanging from the creeper-covered branches. The bark was patterned, and superbly painted. When multi-award winning designer, George Boyd – who was away for this preparation – admits to being jealous, you know the quality.

There were minor, yet still substantial, trees on each side of the stage. On the left apron was a realistic ‘wolf cave’. Shere Khan’s throne was a massive moulded rock, surrounded with pieces of skeleton. Another two-metre high set of rocks acted as Akela’s throne. There were two mud huts constructed from bamboo sticks and with a grass roof, which were rotated to show the furnished interior.

Lachlan Satie and Belinda Beatty assisted the stage manager, George Boyd. Their hard working crew comprised Rodney van Groningen, Ahmad Abdullah, Peter White, and Sam White.    

Jeremy Salt and Lachlan Kessey operated Shelly Miller’s wonderful lighting design that varied between creepy and bright. Charlotte Meagher, Luke Miller, and Shelly Miller operated the soundscape, the musical backing CD, and headsets. Normally the headsets are only used for the singing, but with so many inexperienced youngsters, although they acted well and were word-perfect, their vocal projection was little quiet and it might help on occasions to use the headsets to boost their volume.

 

       Before the show, three cheeky faced monkeys, Thuu (Lilly Miller), Chikai (Taya Cicanese) and Oo (Tahli Redgwell), check out the audience, another monkey (Niamh O’Herir) sells programmes.

     Soon the curtain rises. In the jungle, a young Indian woman, Messua (Georgia Unsworth) and her four-year-old son, Mowgli (Felix Steinwandel) are enjoying a day out, when a greedy golden jackal, Tabaqui (Benedict Chau) arrives. He demands Mowgli as a ‘friend’ for him and the terrifying, man-eating tiger, Shere Khan (Paul Reed). A troop of monkeys, Won-Tolla (Kaitlyn Saunders), the monkey king, King Louie (Katelyn Barr), and Phaona (Hana Sakane-McLelland) realise that Shere Khan will kill the child cub, so discuss Mowgli’s future.

     The monkeys take Mowgli to see the chief wolf, Akela (Gloster Guest) and his deputy chief (Lily Valverde). Akela allows a Father Wolf (Guy Jackson) his wife, Mother Wolf, Raksha (Charlize Gosnell), to adopt Mowgli and let him grow up with their wolf cubs, Ko (Levi Jackson-Guest) and Tha (Liam Miller).

     Seven years later, we find teenage Mowgli (Lukas Steinwandel) is healthy and still being cared for by the wolves, along with a big black, cuddly sloth bear, Baloo (Ryan Perrin), and Mowgli’s mentor, the black panther, Bagheera (Suzy-June Wakeling).

     When he discovers he is a human, Mowgli considers leaving the pack and returns to his village. He meets a beautiful young girl, Neela (Tiana Aitken) and falls in love. He also meets an untouchable beggar (Clare Smale) whom he tries to help, but is threatened by the village women (Belinda Beatty, Gillian Clark, Suzanna Matla, Sarah White, Julie Payne, and Jen O’Herir), before being moved along by the guard (Thomas Outred).

     Mowgli returns to the jungle and meets up with the respected wolf pack, including the oldest son, Grey Brother (David Seman), Ferao (Joshua White) and Akela’s grandchild, Leela (Molly O’Herir), they tell him of the trouble that Shere Khan has been causing. Perhaps the giant python, Kaa (Michaela Tholen) might protect everyone.

       Will Mowgli enjoy being back in the village with his mother? Can he find a way of stopping the evil Khan?

 

The play’s Director was drama teacher, Shelly Miller, who was assisted by her husband, Luke. Considering the very low age of many of the performers, everyone was perfectly rehearsed and never missed a movement or vocal cue. The show was quite long, but they kept the pace up beautifully.

Even the youngest in the audience loved the colour of the set and the realistic costumes – this was true magic for these youngsters. With the splendid backing track CD, there was just the right amount of singing. Musical Director Kiran Podmore, chose his vocalists very well, there were some crystal-clear, voiced soloists. Choreographer Rachel Vonk also selected her solo dancers carefully – Mowgli’s Mum – Georgia Unsworth was a graceful ballet dancer. The kids in the dancing line, moved in sync and sang with gusto. At the end of the numbers, they exited instantly – how often do we see a nervous performer left on the stage staring out blankly? Great professional teamwork.

The superb costume design was by the ever reliable, Marjorie DeCaux, who produced realistic monkeys, fluffy wolves, through to the fine silk jackets of Mowgli and Shere Khan. Kaa the snake was strongly constructed and thanks to the fine operator (Michaela) mesmerised the young audience. Most of the men wore baggy Harem pants, some with wild patterns.

There were plenty of extra laughs, like the way Baloo carried Mowgli, Shere Khan’s threatening behaviour, although it was not until the final curtain that the children got up the nerve to Boo the Baddy. Tabaqui‘s whole delightful demeanour, was that of a subservient idiot – fabulous.

Marloo are accustomed to good houses, but this production was practically sold out for every performance, long before the opening night. There are literally only a couple of seats left for each of the remaining nights.