Helen Schultz ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff
If you are looking for the Next Big Thing on Broadway, look no further than the Huntington Theatre Company’s production of The Jungle Book. Disney Theatrical is known for their flashy productions (The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Newsies) and their newest project does not disappoint. Case in point: the show’s opening sequence will take you from a small room in a modest house to a bright and breathtaking jungle in one minute flat. But be warned: not all of The Jungle Book is as finessed and finished as its start. The Jungle Book is still in development, and it shows. While beautiful sets and music abound, a halting book riddles this otherwise exciting adventure with plenty a rough patch.
While there are times that The Jungle Book carries you along at full-speed, a plagued first act weighs down this otherwise promising production. Clunky exposition follows the dazzling opening sequence and drags down much of the introduction of the main characters. Once the pace picks up, it doesn’t stop. But all the correct choices in the second act don’t make up for the lackluster ones in the first.
That’s not to say that there aren’t moments that seem “ready” at this stage in the game. The iconic character of King Louie (played here by Broadway veteran Andre de Shields) bursts onto stage with such presence and power to deliver “I Wanna Be Like You” that one could feel a collective smile spread across the audience’s faces. A death scene at the bottom of the second act is a rare poignant moment in an otherwise fantastical performance; it’s hard not to feel some shock and awe at the scene that ensues. It’s not to say either that the company of this musical isn’t superb – led by a child actor playing protagonist Mowgli (Akash Chopra at this performance), the ensemble is utilized to its fullest potential. Kevin Carolan as Baloo delivers an outstanding comedic performance. Thomas Derrah as Kaa makes use of the small bits of book assigned to him to steal the show. A stellar ensemble dances their way through the entire show, doing just as much to create the jungle as the magnificent set design by Daniel Ostling. Christopher Gattelli, coreographer of Disney’s Newsies, moves his dancers across the stage in ways that turn otherwise dull scenes into beautiful tableaus.
The Jungle Book isn’t a perfect production – not yet, anyway. Some parts may leave you scratching your head or checking your watch. But the end product – a show that not only dazzles at its loudest moments but speaks with poignancy at its softest – is worth a watch. Jungle Book isn’t perfect, but it’s worthwhile to see the show at this stage, as flawed as it may be. There are moments that will make even the most jaded theatergoer’s jaw drop. Just don’t expect to get fully carried away yet. The Jungle Book will be big someday, and this production is your chance to say that you saw it on its way.