Mary Zimmerman's The Jungle Book at the Goodman Theatre: More Than the Bare Necessities

Mary Zimmerman's The Jungle Book at the Goodman Theatre: More Than the Bare Necessities
(L to R) Vultures Govind Kumar, Ed Kross, Nehal Joshi, and Geoff Packard in Tony Award winner Mary Zimmerman’s new musical adaption of The Jungle Book at Goodman Theatre. Credit Liz Lauren

Mary Zimmerman’s new musical adaptation of The Jungle Book, the tale of the "man-cub" Mowgli who is adopted and raised by wolves in an Indian jungle, now running at Goodman Theatre, is a solid production punctuated by some high notes and more than just the 'Bare Necessities."

The hope/hype, for the world premiere production is that it continues to soar onward and upward with Broadway beckoning.  If so, this would not be a first for the multi-award winning Manilow Resident Director at the Goodman. In 2002, Zimmerman won a Tony Award for Best Direction for her adaptation of Ovid's Metamorphoses that premiered at Chicago's Lookinglass Theatre before heading to Broadway.

When Zimmerman tackles a project, she leaves no stone unturned. When the Disney people contacted Zimmerman to re-imagine The Jungle Book for stage, she jumped at the chance to tackle what she calls "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

This time around, the adaptation had to draw not from one source but from two--the 1894 Rudyard Kipling stories and Disney's popular 1967 animated feature film--each quite different.  Kipling's original stories alternate between civilization and the jungle with a dark and sometimes violent edge, while the movie sets a much lighter celebratory tone with the story taking place in its entirety in a music-filled jungle populated with anthropomorphic creatures.

In order to create her living jungle, Zimmerman and her team including set designer Daniel Ostling, costume designer Mara Blumenfeld and lighting designer T.J. Gerckens spent two and a half weeks traversing India visiting 10 cities to soak up the spirit and culture of the country while taking "thousands and thousands" of photographs.

The result: An inspirational, imaginative, whimsical production that combines the vibrant colors, music and dance of India capturing its spirit and creating a truly unique theatrical experience that resonates, perhaps even more now in these tech-driven times than any other time in The Jungle Book's 119-year history.

The show opens with a small boy sitting in a large chair reading a book in a Victorian setting, when a very tall and colorful peacock comes into the room to lead the boy out the door and into the mystical jungle.  Not surprisingly, Zimmerman and her team have captured the sights and sounds of the Indian jungle to a tee. The production literally shines with the visuals and lyrical sounds transporting the audience into the magical land.

The score contains seven songs from the film, plus never-before-heard pieces from the Academy and Grammy Award winners Richard M. and Robert B. Sherman.

Richard Sherman collaborates with Goodman Music Director Doug Peck for the current production that uses themes from the film and Indian ragas and dance to create a haunting effectiveness in favorites like 'Bare Necessities' and 'Trust in Me' and 'Colonel Hathi's March,'(the popular "The Elephant Song' from the 1967 Disney film). Peck incorporates jazzy brass and woodwinds with traditional Indian instruments including: Indian snake trumpets, South Indian violin (Carnatic), sitar, veena, tablas, ghattam, dholak and dhol to create an authentic sound.

The visuals are lush thanks to scenic designer Daniel Ostling while Mara Blumenfeld's costumes are masterpieces in creativity combining traditional Indian and imperial English looks for her creatures. Choreographer Christopher Gattelli collaborated with Hema Rajagopalan, artistic director of Chicago's Natya Dance Theatre to create a real feel of classical Indian dance that incorporates jazz, tap and more.


After the boy enters the jungle, the story of Mowgli (Akash Chopra) begins to unfold slowly building momentum hitting its stride with the appearance of Kevin Carolan as the bear Baloo. The first act momentum continues to build from there coming to a crescendo with André De Shields (pictured above) as Orangutan King Louie leads the monkeys in a performance that brings down the house--setting the bar high for the rest of the production.

What follows is a solid second act that offers wonderful visuals, dance and music but never is able to surpass or equal the King Louie high.


Tickets to The Jungle Book are $30-$125 with discounts available for subscribers, students and military, prices subject to change. They are on sale at the Goodman Theatre website, by phone at 312 443 3800 or in-person at the Goodman box office (170 N. Dearborn). The production is recommend for adults and families with children 6+. Through August 11, 2013.

Running Time.

Two hours and 15 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.


A complimentary ebook of Kipling's original The Jungle Book is available at

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