REVIEW: Arden’s engaging ‘Jungle Book’ is a fine family treat

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In a world saturated with technology, it is becoming increasingly important to get children out and about, experiencing new things. There is just something about a live performance that television, video games and tablets cannot capture. Exposing kids to the wonders of live theater is a terrific way to foster a love the arts.
Arden Theatre Co. excels at children’s theater. The enthusiastic casts and colorful sets always engage and keep the audience entertained. Arden’s current production of “The Jungle Book,” a world premiere, directed by Matt Decker and written by Greg Banks (based on the story by Rudyard Kipling), once again hits it out of the park. READ AN INTERVIEW WITH MATT DECKER HERE.
The story is familiar – the man cub Mowgli (wonderfully played by Thaddeus Fitzpatrick) wanders into the jungle and is adopted by a wolf (Taysha Canales). He makes enemies with the frightening tiger Shere Kahn (well done by Sean Lally) and friends with panther Bagheera (nicely played by Nikki E. Walker) and free spirited bear Baloo (fantastic job by Charlie DelMarcelle). Mowgli learns the laws of the jungle with help from his friends, gets into trouble with a mischievous bunch of monkeys and eventually faces off with the fierce some tiger. During his journey, Mowgli learns important lessons about growing up, valuing your elders and standing up for yourself. Timothy Mackabee’s stage, sound by Daniel Perelstein and Lighting by Maria Shaplin create an intimate jungle scene on the Arcadia Stage.
The cast, with the exception of Fitzpatrick, all plays multiple roles. Although the costumes, by Lauren Perigard, help with the illusion, the actors themselves do an excellent job capturing the essence of the animals they play. DelMarcelle may not be covered in fur, but he is Baloo come to life. His mannerisms and expressions, the way he walks and talks and holds his hands, all work together so that it doesn’t take much imagination to picture Baloo. The same is true for all the actors and actresses. I’m always impressed at how Arden’s performers are able to embody the animals they bring to life. Canales is particularly captivating as Kaa, the rock snake. Her trailing train works as the snakes’ long tail while she floats along the stage, hypnotizing the monkeys. Walker moves majestically, just like a big cat, while Lally and Canales bounce around, creating laughs, as the dimwitted monkeys. The show, which runs about two hours, easily keeps the attention of the audience and a fun production for the entire family.
IF YOU GO: The Jungle Book runs at Arden Theatre Co., 40 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia, through June 21. Show times are 10 a.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 7 p.m. Fridays and noon and 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $18-$36. For tickets or information, call 215-922-1122 or visit ardentheatre.org. The show is recommended for children ages five and up. There is an opportunity to ask questions and meet the cast after each performance.

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