The Jungle Book Musical Eyeing International Markets
By Andrew Gans
The new musical The Jungle Book, which has extended its engagement at Chicago's Goodman Theatre through Aug. 18, may take a circuitous route to Broadway.
Because of its similarity to The Lion King — both feature humans dressed as animals — The Jungle Book, which is presented by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions, is exploring an international life prior to any Broadway plans.
Disney Theatrical president and producer Thomas Schumacher told Variety, "Jungle Book isn't Lion King, but it does bump up against it, and we have to be careful of that."
Disney plans to explore European markets for the new musical, a co-production between the Goodman and Boston's Huntington Theatre Company, where the production will be seen beginning Sept. 7 for a recently extended engagement through Oct. 13. Another possible market for the new musical, which is directed by Mary Zimmerman, is India. In fact, Schumacher will visit the country later this year to see whether Jungle Book or other Disney musicals would do well there.
The cast of Jungle Book is led by ten-year-old Akash Chopra as Mowgli, the young, spunky and stubborn boy (Roni Akurati plays the role at select performances); Usman Ally as Bagheera, the wise old panther who is serious about the rules of life and the laws of the jungle; Anjali Bhimani as Raksha, the warm, fawning Mother Wolf; Kevin Carolan as Baloo the bear, the carefree and irresponsible tutor to Mowgli; Glory Curda as the Little Girl; Thomas Derrah as Kaa, the sinewy, serpentine sly-but-charming villain; André De Shields as King Louie, the ambitious-but-scattered, comic, dreaming orangutan; Nehal Joshi as Rama, a wolf leader; and Larry Yando as Shere Khan, the tiger, the crafty, powerful and dangerous arch-villain.
The company also features Jeremy Duvall, Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Monique Haley, Ed Kross, Govind Kumar, Alka Nayyar, Geoff Packard, Timothy Wilson and Victor Wisehart.
The Jungle Book is produced by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions, which is providing financial support, creative consultation and access to song material never before heard onstage.
“Working with Mary Zimmerman as she and her astonishing team begin to bring the show to life has been a joy,” said Schumacher, producer and president of Disney Theatrical Productions, in an earlier statement. “As this cast of world-class stage actors proves, she has always attracted the very best theatre collaborators and we cannot wait to see what they’ll conjure.”
Richard M. Sherman collaborated on this production, providing Doug Peck (music director, piano and harmonium) access and permission to adapt songs that Sherman and his brother, Robert, wrote for the film, unused songs written for the film, plus new lyrics written for this production.
“Favorites like ‘The Bare Necessities’ and ‘Trust in Me’ will make great appearances,” said Peck, who attended two music festivals while in India to explore the country’s Northern Classical/Hindustani and Southern Classical/Carnatic traditions. “‘Colonel Hathi’ will probably feel like a musical/dance highlight—one of the biggest moments—and ‘Baloo's Blues’ will be the debut of a new piece of material."
Eight musicians from the Chicago production will travel to Boston with Peck to play in the 12-member orchestra that features a blend of jazz and Indian instruments: Victor Garcia (trumpet); Shivalik Ghoshal (tabla); Ronnie Malley (percussion); Nick Moran (woodwinds); Saraswathi Ranganathan (veena); and Anuradha Sridhar (violin). A sitar player (Neel Murgai) is also part of the orchestra, along with a drummer/percussionist (Sarah Allen), a trombonist (Steven Duncan), a bassist (Larry Kohut) and a woodwinds player (Juli Wood). The orchestra contractor is Heather Boehm.
The creative team also includes Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli, who worked with choreographer/dancer Hema Rajagopalan (founder and artistic director of Chicago’s Natya Dance Theatre), scenic designer Daniel Ostling, costume designer Mara Blumenfeld, lighting designer T.J. Gerckens and sound designers Josh Horvath, Ray Nardelli and Andre Pluess. Lou Castro is the associate choreographer, and Hema Rajagopalanaz is the Indian dance consultant. Production stage manager is Alden Vasquez.
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