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Chris Kelly’s vision for JUNGLE BOOK is a 5/5 hit, on stage at Theatre of Youth through Sunday, April 7

THE BASICS:  THE JUNGLE BOOK, a play by Greg Banks based on the books by Rudyard Kipling presented by Theatre of Youth, directed by Chris Kelly, starring Dan Torres, Preston Williams (in for Bobby Cooke), Brendan Didio, Lissette DeJesús, Rick Lattimer, and Matthew DiVita runs until April 7, Saturdays and Sundays at 2. Note: no performance March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day) and, on Saturday April 6 performances are at both 1 p.m. and 4 instead of only at 2.  It’s at the Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen Street (884-4400). www.theatreofyouth.org Runtime: 1 hour, 45 minutes, including one intermission (allow extra time for the post-show talk back, always a highlight of every TOY show). Recommended for ages 6+ (and that + here really means everybody… it’s that good).

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Adapted from the first three of The Jungle Book stories by Rudyard Kipling (the same three stories that Disney used in both 1967 and 2016) this is the story of Mowgli, the human baby boy abandoned in the jungles of India who is raised by wolves, infuriating the tiger, Shere Khan, who wants to eat the lad. With the help of Baloo the bear and Bagheera the black panther, Mowgli is taught the “Law of the Jungle” including respect for authority, obedience, and knowing one’s place in society. When Mowgli disobeys the orders of Baloo and Bagheera, he is abducted by monkeys, taken to the ruined city, and abandoned (again!) in a dry well. With the help of some vultures, Baloo and Bagheera set out to rescue him with Kaa the python who hypnotizes the monkeys and then eats them. Just as they saved him moments earlier, Mowgli now rescues Baloo and Bagheera from Kaa’s spell. Some years later, the wolfpack and Mowgli are once again threatened by Shere Khan. Mowgli brings fire, driving off the tiger but now must leave the jungle. In addition to listening, the stories teach self-reliance and, very important for today’s audience, the acceptance of different cultures.

 

Photo by Christy Francis

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: I will simply add my accolades to every other reviewer in Buffalo. This show is a hands down thumbs up winner on every single front. Starting with the actors wearing their basic black leotard dancing in the aisles to the very hypnotic drumming by Matthew J. DiVita, the lighting by John Rickus in cool forest greens and blues starts to shimmer, and soon we meet Mowgli, the man-cub, in a very athletic but child-like performance by Daniel Torres. Then the fabulous costumes start to appear, costumes that you’ve never seen before, here designed by the stage designer, Kenneth Shaw, and maintained by Barbara Priore, Head of Wardrobe, and kept in readiness in the wings by Stage Manager, Brittany Wysocki.  When the sinister tiger Shere Khan appears, played by Rick Lattimer (I had no idea Rick could do that voice), things heat up and it’s pretty much non stop until the end.

Everyone on stage is superb, including the intrepid Preston Williams who was a last-minute fill in for Baloo the bear and Brendan Didio as Bagheera the panther. Lissette DeJesús holds nothing back, first as the “don’t mess with mama” Mother Wolf, and later as Kaa, the hypnotic snake. For over 50 years, my gold-standard Kaa voice was that of Sterling Holloway (not to mention George Sanders as Shere Khan). But, Ms. DeJesús puts on her most seductive Latin voice and creates a whole new concept.

Photo by Christy Francis

The set, constructed of farm equipment on a turntable making a giant “jungle gym” is used very effectively. There is pathos and drama but there is also great humor, including the monkeys who dab every time they mention “the ruined city” (big laughs from the kids) and the corny buddy-comedy humor of the two vultures (big laughs from the adults).

When director Chris Kelly brings his unparalleled sense of whimsy to a production as he did last season with BUA’s SIGNIFICANT OTHER (also starring Lissette DeJesús) and as he does here in TOY’s THE JUNGLE BOOK, it’s always a high point of any season. Don’t miss this one.

Lead image by Christy Francis

UP NEXT: DRAGONS LOVE TACOS, recommended for ages 4+, at Theatre of Youth, May 4 – Jun 1, 2019.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For 20 years, as program host on Classical 94.5 WNED and continuing on-stage with the Buffalo Chamber Music Society, he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?"

As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take." And, on “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM and Saturday afternoons at 5:55 p.m. on Classical 94.5 WNED) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?"

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he has been an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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