The Jungle Book
Bagheera (Michael Joseph), the narrator of Darryn Crosbie’s pantomime, in the opening moments introduces the main players in the classic story – among them Mowgli (Jake Farmer), Baloo (Donncha O’Dea), Kaa (Linzi Cowap) and Shere Khan (Nicholas Grennell) – who step through the covers of an oversized book on to the Gaiety stage to meet their young audience.
The central plot, however, unspools through music, as Crosbie’s script primarily uses song for storytelling. There are the obvious anthems from Disney’s 1967 film, of course, but, with the enthusiastic assistance of musical director Peter Beckett, familiar favourites are enhanced with rock’n’roll riffs and soulful serenades. In the central scene in the monkey’s lair, for example, King Louie’s King of the Jungle segues into the Kool and the Gang classic Jungle Boogie before culminating with a raucous rendition of House of Pain’s Jump Around. Fair play to Norman Payne, leading the simian ensemble, for keeping up; it can be challenging for the audience too.
[ Beauty and the Beast The Musical review: Visually spectacular production ]
The musical elements are complemented by Crosbie’s attention to choreography, which makes brilliant use of a small chorus of children from the Billie Barry Stage School. They are matched with professional dancers in the big ensemble numbers to great effect. The dance routine for Rotten to the Core, the baddies’ big number, is especially memorable, and Pauline McCaul’s slinky serpentine costumes come into their own under Kevin Smith’s lights. Kaa’s cobra-style headpiece is just one example of the creative expression of animal character from McCaul’s costume team.
There are nods to contemporary events – the bossy elephant general is nicknamed Elon Tusk – plus a tongue-twisting skit for adults, but The Jungle Book is refreshingly pitched at the children in the audience, and, although it’s a bit too long, at 2½ hours, it would be a brilliant first panto experience for young families.
Runs at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin 2, until Sunday, January 22nd