Edward Mast adapted Kipling’s The Jungle Book into jungalbook, a show for younger kids in which the tiger Sherakhan tries to turn the wolf pack against the man cub Mowgli and his wolf protector/adoptive mother Akela. And under the intriguing adaptation and direction by Billy W. Murray at Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, jungalbook gets transformed into an edgy, urban tale of gang warfare. The characters become a symbiosis of various jungle animals and young adults, much of the dialogue developed with feedback from the performers. The characters are fighting for respect, territory, and sometimes their lives. They mostly do so among their various animal groups/gangs, though internal fighting becomes a key element of the story. The setting is a near-future police state in a large, New York City-type environment, where the laws of the jungle are not always obeyed.

The chaos of the jungle begins with the breaking of a theatre law – the programs have been previously crumpled. Chaos reigns even before you’re in the theatre! Rumor is that they were considering crumpling them into balls and throwing them at audience members as they came in, but the programs were handed out, and the play begins. Beginning with the sounds of a busy city and the silhouetted shapes of animals moving about against white sheets – forms that morph into people-like animals. Then the sheets are torn away to reveal the various gangs/animals groups who begin battling each other through dance. Wolves, monkeys, tigers, snakes, and hyenas have a dance-off using different types of music for each group – everything from rap, hip-hop, gangsta, funk, etc., with great choreography by Erin Strong that compellingly kicks the show off.

As Baloo the bear, Lucas McMahon attempts to acts as a harmonizer of the jungle, ending the dance war by coming in with some soothing reggae and mellowing everyone out for a while. He also introduces us to the jungal law, the most basic of which is that to eat you must kill, but never kill for sport. This Baloo is a far more serious Baloo than the Disney version, taking responsibility for the child who is left with the wolf pack (as a baby in car seat), and trying his best to maintain some harmony in a harsh world where power and strength always present a challenge to the rule of law. Lucas does a good job balancing the easygoing nature of the bear and his strong, loyal side as he tries to help both Mowgli and the law to victory over those who would break both of them.

Scott Dzialo is Mowgli, the man-cub whose presence is the source of the current disturbance in the jungle, and who can’t really understand why some of the others see him as not belonging in their world. Mowgli says he doesn’t know what “fear” is, but Baloo assures him it’s coming when times get hard. Breet Achin does not seem to fear much, exuding confidence and calm strength as the panther Bagheera who takes it upon herself to see Mowgli comes to no harm, doing so both for the sake of the human and of her jungle home. Mide Babatunde is the single-minded Sherakhan, determined to kill the man-cub or have him killed, lacking any respect for the jungal law if he can break it without hurting himself, willing to destroy anyone who opposes his efforts. And that includes Akela, Mowgli’s wolf mother who has vowed to raise and protect Mowgli as her own. Lydia Dallett delivers some of the strongest moments in the show as the once proud, strong wolf deals with growing older and weaker, trying to still sound strong and invincible even as the younger wolves are turned against her rule, and as Sherakhan makes clear his intent to kill her. She indeed knows fear, knowing that she no longer has the strength to be victorious.

Adding some humor to the show are a couple of vultures played by Eamon Callison and Ellie Shepley, eagerly expecting a drought which Ellie thinks is “excellent” as she exhibits hilarious body language and personality in vulture-like anticipation of a feast. Other groups include the trash-talking but gutless hyenas, three amusingly playful and teasing monkeys, a group of hypnotic prostitutes as Kaa the snake, and the young wolves that are easily manipulated with the promise of strength and power.

The sense of tension and chaos is always in the background of Director Billy W. Murray’s production, spiking at key moments. During those spikes, Adam McLean provides some terrific direction of the stage combat as the animals attack, and as they intimidate through body language before the attacks. The set is filled with chain link fencing, graffiti, and a playground seldom used for lighthearted play (except perhaps by the carefree monkeys). Sound Designer Corey Simpson leaves his imprint throughout, helping sow the discord and fear that marks this society where laws and justice are threatened to be overturned in favor of the rule of the strong over the weak.

Performed May 23 - 25, 2008.

Rob Hopper
Executive Director
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~
Baloo: Lucas McMahon
Bagheera: Breet Achin
Sherakhan: Mide Babatunde
Mowgli: Scott Dziald
Akela: Lydia Dallett

~ Wolves ~
Grey: Matt Cranney
Paw: Eli Grober
First: Nkem Oghedo
Grab: Chase Potter

~ Kaa: The Snakes ~
Farah Danya
Jean Fang
Yisa Fermin
Carrie St. Louis

~ Monkeys ~
Abby Colella
Eric Sirakian
Michaeljit Sandnu

~ Vultures ~
Eamon Callison
Ellie Shelpley

~ Hyenas ~
Sadiga Farrow
Blaine Johnson
Atima Lui
Miguel Taverez

Tourist: Nick Anschuetz

~ Da Man ~
Nick Anschuetz
Louise Ireland
Mike Kaluzany

Concept and Direction: Billy W. Murray
Choreography: Erin Strong
Stage Combat/Fight Direction: Adam McLean
Acting/Vocal Coach: Mark Ehnger
Tech Director: Mike Kaluzny
Stage Manager: Molly Shoemaker
Sound Designer: Corey Simpson
Costume Design: Joel Comoacho


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