Monday, February 2, 2015

The Jungle Book—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland

The Undulating Veldt
This dance-musical version of Kipling’s book is adapted, directed and choreographed by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director) and Anita Menon.  It is playing at their space at 1819 NW Everett St. through March 1st.  For more information, go to their site at or call 503-222-2190.

Kipling may not have easily recognized his story in this artistic interpretation, nor would Disney, creator of the very good animated musical of it.  But, that being said, I think they would have enjoyed it, nevertheless, as I did.  The costuming (designer, Mary Rochon), dance and music (Composer, Archana Mungara) are almost entirely East Indian in theme and style.  The animals represented, bear, panther, snake, wolves, monkeys, tiger, et. al. look as if they may have stepped out of storybook from India.

Experiencing this, I was reminded of other journeys that the young may have taken in the path to adulthood:  King Arthur, as a boy (Wart), being tutored by the wizard, Merlin, and being transformed into various animals in order to see other perspectives of life; or, The Lion King, as Simba grows to be an adult; or, The Life of Pi, as an Indian boy overcomes adversity; and maybe even the current CoHo production of The Snowstorm, in which classical music is the catalyst for a young child’s view of life.

All these elements boil down to the transformation of a child, a boy named, Mowgli (Avish Menon), a man-cub, abandoned at birth and raised by the animals of the jungle.  Chief among them are his tutors, a feisty panther named, Bagheera (Brianna Rouse) and a blustering bear called, Baloo (Zero Feeney).  He is allowed to stay because the leader of the pack, a clever wolf, Akela (Kate Mura), has taken pity on him.

But Mowgli is more interested in playing with the monkeys than learning lessons.  And there are two dangers that face him.  The first is that he is a human and can make fire, which is a threat to the creatures of the jungle.  And the second is that a vicious tiger, Shere Khan (Kevin-Michael Moore), has claimed him for his own, a tasty meal.

An encounter will occur that will upset the balance of power of the Council Rock; his tutors, along with a mesmerizing snake, Kaa (Kate Kelly), and his alluring friend, Rann (Alisha Menon), will all battle for his safety and the fate of the forest.  How this all comes out, you will have to discover for yourselves.

The charm of this production really lies with the amazing dancers and dances, as well as the captivating music.  It is a tale told mostly through stylized movement; interpretive dance (chorographers, Hardy and Menon), including ballet, Bollywood, Indian folk dancing, hip-hop, rock, et. al.;  very colorful and inventive costumes (Rochon); and some extraordinary musical numbers from the composer, Mungara.  If you enjoy going to musical and dance concerts, you will really enjoy this.

The chorus of dancers are the key to the success of this production.  Kelly (Raa) and Menon (Rann) stand out as having some very beautiful moments in this regard.  And Menon (Mowgli) has the right look and feel for the role, as well as some good acting chops.  And special kudos for Anjali’s Indian Classical Dance Troupe  All in all, a worthwhile time at the theatre.

One issue to be aware of, the parking situations in this part of town are terrible.  The theatre only has a very small parking lot and the rest of the area is street parking only.  Although no meters (for now) the signs are very confusing and contradictory as to when and where you can park and for how long.  It would be nice if a nearby business, church, or school, that did not operate on the weekends, would allow parking for them.  Anyway, bottom line, allow yourself being there a couple of hours ahead of time (just like the airport, although no searches).

I recommend this production.  If you do go, please tell them Dennis sent you.

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