Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Two-Time Tony Nominee André De Shields, Nehal Joshi, Akash Chopra and More Set for Mary Zimmerman helmed The Jungle Book at The Goodman, 6/21-8/4 and The Huntington, 9/7-10/6

André De Shields will receive the Living Legend Award. Photo by Lia Chang

André De Shields will receive the Living Legend Award. Photo by Lia Chang

Two-time Tony nominee and Emmy Award winning actor André De Shields (The Full Monty, Play On!, The Wiz, Ain’t Misbehavin’) stars as King Louie, the ambitious-but-scattered, comic, dreaming orangutan, in the Mary Zimmerman helmed production of The Jungle Book, a world premiere stage adaptation which premieres at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre on June 21, 2013 and has performances through August 4, 2013. The production will play at the Huntington in Boston from September 7 – October 6, 2013. Based on Nobel Laureate Rudyard Kipling’s 1893 collection of stories set in the Indian jungle and Walt Disney’s 1967 animated film, Zimmerman’s adaptation of The Jungle Book is a music- and movement-filled adventure of young Mowgli’s coming-of-age in the animal kingdom. For tickets and more information on The Jungle Book, click here.

The cast blends longtime Zimmerman collaborators with newcomers – including ten-year-old Akash Chopra as Mowgli, the young, spunky, and stubborn boy. Joining him will be Usman Ally (The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity at Second Stage Theatre) as Bagheera, the wise old panther who is serious about the rules of life and the laws of the jungle; Elena Flores (The House on Mango Street at Steppenwolf Theatre Company) as Raksha, the warm, fawning Mother Wolf (replacing Anjali Bhimani who will appear in Chicago); Kevin Carolan (Newsies on Broadway) as Baloo the bear, the carefree and irresponsible tutor to Mowgli; Glory Curda as the Little Girl; Thomas Derrah of Boston (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at the Huntington) as Kaa, the sinewy, serpentine sly-but-charming villain; Nehal Joshi (LES MISERABLES on Broadway) as Rama, a wolf leader; and Larry Yando (Candide at the Huntington) as Shere Khan the tiger, the crafty, powerful and dangerous arch-villain.

An ensemble of actors, dancers, and singers create Kipling’s “people of the jungle”- vultures, monkeys, elephants, wolves, and more-including Jeremy Duvall, Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Monique Haley, Ed Kross, Govind Kumar, Alka Nayyar, Geoff Packard (title role in Candide at the Huntington), Timothy Wilson, and Victor Wisehart.

“I’m absolutely thrilled to be returning to Boston and then to Huntington,” says adaptor and director Zimmerman, whose 2011 production of Candide was the Huntington’s highest grossing musical in its 31-year history. “I love the theatre and its audience. Our challenge with this adaptation is to combine the profundity, beauty, and even strangeness of Kipling’s stories with the spirit and music of the film, which is all joy, joy, joy. I’m incredibly excited to work with this wildly talented ensemble of actors, singers, and dancers to create the world of the play. It is always joyful to reunite with many of my longtime collaborators, but it is also thrilling to add so many new voices into the fold.”

“Having worked with Mary on remounts of some of her very successful shows, I was excited for the opportunity to collaborate on a new work with her,” says Usman Ally. “Kipling’s stories as well as the Disney animation were quite a big part of my childhood, and it’s a unique position to be in working on the world premiere of the stage version. I’m looking forward to working with an ethnically and artistically diverse team in telling this story that is set in my parents’ part of the world.”

On collaborating with Zimmerman for the first time, André De Shields remarked, “I experienced Metamorphoses on Broadway in 2002, and was psychologically, emotionally, and physically mesmerized by the ease of the director’s ability to use the myths of the realm of the gods to decode the sometimes paralyzing riddles of the human condition. I sat entranced and thought, ‘I must work with this director.’ That director was Mary Zimmerman. And now with The Jungle Book, I am excited about the possibility of achieving something similar by using the myths of the natural world.”

André De Shields most recently appeared at the Goodman in Camino Real during the 2011/2012 Season. Previous Goodman credits include Play On! (Jeff Award; Black Theater Alliance Award) and Waiting for Godot. Other Chicago credits include The Gospel According to James at Victory Gardens Theater; Poe and Warp! at Organic Theater Company; Hair (professional debut) at the Shubert Theater and The Me Nobody Knows at Civic Stage. He has appeared on Broadway in Impressionism, Prymate (Drama Desk Award nomination), The Full Monty (Tony Award nomination), Play On! (Tony Award nomination), Ain’t Misbehavin’ (Drama Desk Award nomination) and The Wiz. Mr. De Shields’ off-Broadway credits include Knock Me a Kiss (Audelco Award for Best Actor) at the New Federal Theatre and The Bacchae at the New York Shakespeare Festival. He has appeared on film in Extreme Measures, and his television credits include ‘Law & Order,’ “Sex and the City,” “Lipstick Jungle,” “Life on Mars,” “Rescue Me,” “Cosby” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (Emmy Award). Mr. De Shields won a Jeff Award for Best Director for The Colored Museum at Victory Gardens Theater, and was the choreographer for Bette Midler and the Harlettes at The Happy Medium. Mr. De Shields is a recipient of the 2012 Fox Foundation Fellowship/Distinguished Achievement, and will be completing his residency at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater.

The Jungle Book is produced by special arrangement with Disney Theatrical Productions, which proudly supports Zimmerman’s development of this title, providing financial support, creative consultation, and access to song material never before heard onstage. “Working with Mary Zimmerman as she and her astonishing team begin to bring the show to life has been a joy,” said Thomas Schumacher, producer and president of Disney Theatrical Productions. “As this cast of world-class stage actors proves, she has always attracted the very best theatre collaborators and we cannot wait to see what they’ll conjure.”

Legendary Academy Award and Grammy winner Richard M. Sherman is collaborating on this production, providing Doug Peck (Music Director, Piano, and Harmonium) access and permission to adapt beloved songs that Sherman and his brother, Robert, wrote for the film, unused songs written for the film, plus new lyrics written for this production.

“Favorites like ‘The Bare Necessities’ and ‘Trust in Me’ will make great appearances,” says Peck, who attended two music festivals while in India to explore the country’s Northern Classical/Hindustani and Southern Classical/Carnatic traditions. “‘Colonel Hathi’ will probably feel like a musical/dance highlight-one of the biggest moments-and ‘Baloo’s Blues’ will be the debut of a new piece of material. The all-new orchestration includes a blend of Western instruments (piano, bass, drums, trumpet, trombone, tuba, flute, clarinet, saxophone) and traditional Indian instruments (harmonium, sitar, veena, tablas, tanpura, ghatam, Carnatic violin).

Eight musicians from the Chicago production will travel to Boston with Peck to play in the 12-member orchestra that will feature a blend of jazz and Indian instruments: Victor Garcia (Trumpet); Shivalik Ghoshal (Tabla); Ronnie Malley (Percussion); Nick Moran (Woodwinds); Saraswathi Ranganathan (Veena); and Anuradha Sridhar (Violin). A sitar player will join the orchestra, along with a drummer/percussionist, a trombonist); a bassist; and a woodwinds player.

The creative team also includes Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Gattelli (Broadway’s Newsies – also Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards), who will work with choreographer/dancer Hema Rajagopalan, (founder and artistic director of Chicago’s Natya Dance Theatre) to combine elements of classical Indian dance forms with jazz, tap, and other types of movement to enhance the storytelling.

Scenic Designer Daniel Ostling, Costume Designer Mara Blumenfeld, and Lighting Designer T.J. Gerckens-each of whom have collaborated with Zimmerman over the past two decades on a wide range of projects in theatre (Candide at the Huntington, Arabian Nights, Metamorphoses, and more) and opera (Lucia di Lammermoor and La Sonnambula for The Metropolitan Opera)-reconvene to create Mowgli’s world on stage.

“Our set will have elements that are familiar to the audiences who know The Jungle Book but, at the same time, will be a world completely different from what they may be expecting,” said Ostling. “Our India trip informed many of the choices we’re making; we’re trying to capture the riot of color, sound, and visual stimuli that come at you from every direction when you walk down the street. We want to take the audience on a beautiful visual and musical trip.”

Of the costumes, Blumenfeld said, “The challenge is how to represent a world of characters that are animals. We’ve been very inspired by Kipling’s description of the animals as ‘people’-Wolf People, the Monkey People, the Snake People, etc.-and many descriptions of their physical attributes are in human terms-Bagheera’s ‘black watermarked silk coat’ or Kaa ‘shedding his skin like a tight-fitting jacket.’ So, inspired by clothing from the rich traditions of India (and the British presence in India during the time of Kipling’s youth) we hope to give each group of animals their own distinct look and a very human element.”

Sound Designers Josh Horvath, Ray Nardelli, and Andre Pluess complete the design team.

Lia Chang. Photo by Bruce Alan Johnson

Lia Chang. Photo by Bruce Alan Johnson

Lia Chang is an actor, a performance and fine art botanical photographer, and an award-winning multi-platform journalist. This summer she will appear as Carole Barbara in Lorey Hayes’ Power Play at the National Black Theatre Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C., with Pauletta Pearson Washington, Roscoe Orman, Lorey Hayes, Marcus Naylor and Penwah, July 30-August 1, 2013.

Other articles about The Jungle Book:
windy city times: NUNN ON ONE: THEATER Andre De Shields navigates the theater ‘Jungle’ André De Shields to Speak at International Council of Fine Arts Deans, 10/25
Chicago Goodman Theatre, Disney unite for stage version of ‘Jungle Book’ Cutting Through a Cultural Thicket ‘The Jungle Book’ Comes to the Stage Andre De Shields Stars in ‘The Jungle Book’

Other articles by Lia Chang:
Photos: Maurice Hines, Jonathan Groff, Mercedes Ellington, Charles Randolph Wright at The Laurie Beechman for André De Shields’s I PUT A SPELL ON YOU
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Click here for the Lia Chang Articles Archive and here for the Lia Chang Photography Website.

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