ML - Michigan Avenue

2013 - Issue 3 - May/June

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dancing with disney OPPOSITE PAGE: A real-life Colonel Hathi in India. RIGHT: The Jungle Book's creative team in India, visiting the Taj Mahal for inspiration. IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE MOUSE HOUSE, DIRECTOR MARY ZIMMERMAN REINVENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK FOR THE GOODMAN STAGE. BY THOMAS CONNORS R udyard Kipling didn't have it easy as a kid. Uprooted from his home in India at age five, he was sent to England, where he and his young sister were "cared for" by a less-thanloving couple. As a young man, he returned to India and established himself as a journalist, poet, and author. Although he stayed there only a few years, the subcontinent was often the center of his creative efforts throughout his life. And among the most enduringly popular are those collected in The Jungle Book. Now, theater director Mary Zimmerman—renowned for deftly adapting texts ancient and modern—has turned her attention to Kipling. But in a twist for the Tony Award winner, her primary source is not the author's work, but the 1967 animated Disney film. A venture of the Goodman Theatre with a seal of approval from Disney (the generator of such stage hits as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King), The Jungle Book may seem miles from Zimmerman's usual turf. But for an artist whose need to tell stories knows no boundaries (she's addressed both Proust and 12th-century Persian poetry), working her way through this Anglo-Indian world as reimagined by one of the entertainment industry's most creative corporate giants isn't the stretch one might suppose. "All my life I've been attracted to texts that present great challenges for the stage," says Zimmerman. LEFT: Costume designer Mara "Like how do you do someone Blumenfeld turning into a bird or sitting on examines textiles in a flying carpet? How do you get India. BELOW: onstage what wasn't intended to Music director Doug Peck be onstage? That, to me, is the act with Chicago of adaptation." musicians. Celebrated as one of the greatest short story writers in the English language while at the same time shunned as an unabashed champion of imperialism, Kipling is not always easy to embrace. And The Jungle Book isn't—by contemporary standards—a fully kid-friendly text. "In the later stories, especially," notes Zimmerman, "there's a lot of blood and death. But even the first 30 pages, which are all Disney pulled from, can be quite grim." Although the studio's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs can be terrifying, Disney saw to it that the dangers the young, wolf-reared Mowgli encounters in the film are almost playful incidents by comparison to the book. Although Zimmerman knows the Goodman production will attract its share of young folks, she won't rule out a shade of darkness. "What I am trying to do is to marry the music of the film—and with the music comes character and plot—with the maturity and complexity of the Kipling stories." Zimmerman's MO— defined by simple props and stage pictures that rely on the subtleties of lighting and gesture—is the antithesis of the knock-your-socks-off spectacle that propels many musicals. "It's —MARY ZIMMERMAN not in me to bring on a new set every three minutes," she says. "Think about how children create in the backyard.... 'Here's two bowling pins, and I'm going to stick them in my belt, and they are my rockets.' That's the aesthetic I'm sticking to. And children understand it. They understand 'pretend' extremely well." With its Sherman Brothers score, dynamic animation, and the voices of Sebastian Cabot, Phil Harris, Louis Prima, and George Sanders, Disney's The Jungle Book remains (even in this age of computer-generated effects and Harry Potter magic) utterly charming—for adults as well as children. And with such a rich source to draw from, chances are that Zimmerman's version will delight, too. As she observes, "The Jungle Book is about leaving the Garden of Eden. And that's a story that doesn't grow old." The Jungle Book will run from June 21 to July 28 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., 312-443-3800; MA "All my life I've been attracted to texts that present great challenges for the stage." MICHIGANAVEMAG.COM 062-063_MA_SC_HT_MayJune13.indd 63 63 4/16/13 3:09 PM

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