Forgotten Musicals Friday: THE JUNGLE BOOK’s Jungle Rhythm

Govind Kumar, Ed Kross, Nehal Joshi, Geoff Packard and Akash Chopra in THE JUNGLE BOOK. Photo credit: Liz Lauren.
Govind Kumar, Ed Kross, Nehal Joshi, Geoff Packard and Akash Chopra in The Jungle Book.
Photo credit: Liz Lauren.

This July, the focus of our Forgotten Musicals Friday series is The Jungle Book, a 2013 adaptation of the beloved Disney film. So far, we’ve looked at the show’s origins and delved a little deeper into the book and the score. This week, we’re examining the staging of the show, with a particular focus on its choreography.

Joining the production team of the show’s director and librettist, Mary Zimmerman, and musical director, Doug Peck, was its choreographer, Christopher Gattelli. To create the show’s dances, Gatelli worked with Hema Rajagopalan, a teacher of Bharata Natyam, who the producers credited as the show’s Indian Dance Consultant. The result was a marriage between the kinds of dance styles we see in conventional Broadway musicals and Indian dance, with the musicians sometimes making a welcome appearance in the numbers too. Often, the dance styles blended seamlessly, which must have been the intention, although there are moments when one sees the baton passed as one dance style picks up where another leaves off.

All things told, The Jungle Book isn’t a musical with a wealth of dance opportunities besides those you might expect. The wild dance break in “I Wanna Be Like You” and the stylised marching of “Colonel Hathi’s March” are there, as fans of the film would expect them to be. “The Bare Necessities” was opened up well in this production with a trio of dancing butterflies that used movement to punctuate and comment on Baloo’s philosophy. Moments like these are so delightful that one wishes the show had built on them even more.

Setting the dance to one side, The Jungle Book is infused with opportunities for movement to create the illusion of a living jungle on stage. In this production, the actors used gestures derived from Indian dance to articulate their animal characters. Underneath it all, their bodies undulated with life. This approach is mesmerising to watch, while the stylisation reinforces Zimmerman’s concept that Mowgli is living in a fantastical world of play.

Next week, we’ll take a look at how Dan Ostling and Mara Blumenfeld manifested the world of The Jungle Book in their respective scenic and costume designs: it’s time to jump into The Jungle Book look!

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