Niles West Theatre’s “The Jungle Book” Amazes the Audience

By Mara Shapiro

Freshman Surdeep Chauhan plays Mowgli in The Jungle Book. Photo courtesy of the Niles West Theatre Department.

Picture this: lots of little kids staring intently at the stage in the Robert L. Johnson Auditorium, happy parents smiling, wowed students fascinated by the work their fellow thespians are doing, and a stage with lots of color, music, animal heads, and bongos. This was what Niles West’s The Jungle Book looked like.

Niles West’s version of the beloved Disney classic was a lot different and darker. The scene opened with the telling of how the forest and creatures were made. The animals are happy and at peace until man arrives. Then bloodshed and murder is unleashed in the animal kingdom. After the tale is ended the animals turn into the actors portraying the story. The actors fade away and two characters are left. The characters are Nathoo, played by senior Aleks Krapivkin, and Madhur, played by junior Marina Spasova. The two villagers are spending time with their baby when all of a sudden a wild boy appears. The boy’s name is Kamya, played by freshman Joey Ewan. He is a wild boy and Madhur and Nathoo decide to take him in. The characters are all sitting by a fire when Nathoo decides to tell Kamya a story. It is similar to how the forest was made, but involves a young boy named Mowgli. Kamya sits by the side of the stage as Krapivkin and Sapsova magically turn into the characters Akela and Raksha. This act might have confused the little kids, but it was executed quite nicely with the actors walking on all fours and growling.

Raksha and Akela are wolves. They have one son, Grey Brother, played by fresman Daniel Bedoya. Man has been wandering the forest, and it can be heard by the growling of the dangerous, scary tiger, Shere Khan. Khan was played by junior Steven Czajkowski. Once the men flee, Raksha finds a little man cub. Her husband, Akela is hesitant when Raksha carries it over to him. She tells him that the baby is only a cub and that it won’t hurt anyone. Raksha falls in love with the little human instantly and likens him to a frog. She names him Mowgli, meaning little frog. I found this fascinating because I never knew what Mowgli meant until now. Raksha then decides that she wants to raise Mowgli as a wolf. Shere Khan finds out and wants to raise the boy as a tiger. Hatht, the elephant leader of the forest played by sophomore Alex Wood, calls in the forest animals to decide the fate of the human baby. Kaa the snake, played by senior Maddy Weil, accentuates hers perfectly as she slithers out a yes in the favor of the boy being raised a wolf. Shere Khan gets a vote for himself by intimidating a poor monkey, played by sophomore Danny Morrison. The final vote that decides the boy’s fate is by the panther Bagheera, played by senior Andrea Lupas. Bagheera gives her vote and it is decided that the boy will be raised a wolf.

The cast of The Jungle Book. Photo courtsey of the Niles West Theatre Department.

The rest of the story follows the path of Mowgli, played by freshman Surdeep Chauhan, as he finds out what being a man living in a forest of wild animals entails, all the while being stalked by Shere Khan. Czajkowski played a funny Shere Khan, so he really wasn’t all that scary, especially with his growls. I could tell that the little kids really enjoyed the noises that the actors made. The story ends with Mowgli killing Shere Khan, to the dismay of the animal kingdom. Though Khan was a nasty animal, he was still a “brother.” Mowgli feels bad and realizes that he needs to leave the wild and live with humans. The scene then shifts to Kamya, Nethoo, and Madhur. Kamya is impressed by the story, and it is later revealed that Nethoo was Mowgli. He still lives in the forest, just lives more like a human now.

The play was wonderfully acted out. Chauhan played a Mowgli who was innocent and intimidating at the same time. The costumes were phenomenal with beautiful animal heads adorned on the head of each actor. The bongo playing really put you into tribal India, as well as the music and dancing. One aspect I found really cool was the way fire was portrayed. For the fire pit there was what appeared to be orange glowing tissue paper billowing out of the pit. It was very cool. The actors portrayed the darkness and death of the animal kingdom very well, and they made themselves appear like animals with the growling and teeth-knashing. The only thing that would make someone not like the play would be that it is a bit darker than the Disney classic, and some little kids might have been scared or saddened by the violence. It might also disappoint someone if they expected to see the Disney version acted out instead of the darker play version. The play did amaze the audience overall, though.

“I loved the hats for the costumes. They were really creative..,” sophomore Basia Gawin says.

The costumes were a big hit of the night.

“I liked all the songs and [the] costumes were really cool,” sophomore Marina Letica says.

Niles West Theatre did a great job bringing The Jungle Book to life. Though it was a bit darker than what I’m used to, I thoroughly enjoyed the play. The kids loved it, the parents loved it, the students loved it. What more could you ask for? Great job to all the cast and crew of the play, and wonderful directing by theatre director Andrew Sinclair. I can’t wait for the rest of the Theatre season.