Venue: King Street Theatre (Newtown NSW), Apr 14 – 26, 2014
Book and Lyrics: Markus Weber (based on the original by Rudyard Kipling)
Composer: Michael Summ
Director: Markus Weber
Actors: Maria De Marco, Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn, Mark Power, Mandy Fung, Bernard Wheatley, Brett O’Neill, Kyle Stephens
Image by Lorina Stacey Schwenke
Markus Weber and Michael Summ’s version of The Jungle Book is a beautifully-written musical derived from Rudyard Kipling’s famed writings. Familiar characters are retained, and even though these songs are less well-known, they are delightfully catchy and pleasantly melodic.
Markus Weber’s current production is fairly minimal, and relies on the strength of the songs and text to carry the show. Musical arrangements are joyful and effective for most of the material, but several numbers need an update from an unfortunate and uncomfortable 1990s pop/rock sound. Weber’s use of space is thoughtfully varied. The multi-tiered stage is designed well, and used cleverly to keep the attention of the audience. It is noteworthy that although a vast majority of the crowd is very young, the musical has enough content to entertain any adult companion.
There are moments however, where performances falter, and confusion emerges. Even though performances are spirited, calibre of players vary dramatically. The show is designed for children, but the roles are not simple, and it relies heavily on what the actors can bring to the production.
Maria De Marco’s singing voice is strongest in the cast, using it wonderfully to convey the story wonderfully despite not having assistance from microphones. She plays Bagheera, the black leopard who delivers several poignant moments that give the production a necessary shade of gravity. Badaidilaga Maftuh-Flynn plays Mowgli, the only human character. Maftuh-Flynn performs with conviction, and has the gift of being able to portray emotion with great clarity without appearing to be doing very much at all. Brett O’Neill is a vibrant King Louie, the amusingly deluded monkey who never fails to entertain. O’Neill’s energy is big and focused, and his keen sense of comic timing shows him to be the most polished actor on this stage, leaving an excellent impression, notwithstanding the brevity of his appearance.
The Jungle Book‘s message of ecological awareness is a critical one. The anthropomorphism of wildlife imparts to younger generations, values of conservationism that are noble and necessary. Providing children with an understanding that animals are not our slaves or property is a responsibility we must take, if only for our own survival.