Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Jungle BookAsolo Repertory Theatre
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Strait of Gibraltar

Levin Valayil (front);
Miriam Fernandes, Matt Lucas, Anita Majumdar (rear)

Photo by Gary W. Sweetman
Asolo Repertory Theatre is presenting the world premiere of a new version of Jungle Book, written and directed by Craig Francis and Rick Miller, based on the stories by Rudyard Kipling. This is brought to us by Kidoons and WYRD in association with The 20K Collective, the same folks who last year brought us Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Jungle Book has the same branding as last year's show, but without some of the excesses that I found off putting. Attempting to put a modern spin on Jules Verne's classic sea tale turned the original inside out, making it a treatise on ecology stewardship but losing the adventure story along the way. Here, aside from an invented prelude and epilogue which places Mowgli as an architect in New York City, the tale of his being raised by wolves in nature and his interaction with other animals is left intact, complete with Kipling's sense of whimsy and wonderment. Computer-generated graphics are much more in service to our story and there are many spectacular visuals along the way. For some reason this has been a season of repeated representations of elephants on stage (The Little Prince at freeFall Theatre and Sarasota Ballet's John Ringling's Circus Nutcracker) and now this production. Each appearance of the noble beasts has been a highlight of its production. The Tiger, played by Shere Khan, is another delight here.

Levin Valayil is our hero Mowgli. In alphabetical order: Miriam Fernandes, notable as Shere Khan and Kaa; Matt Lacas adorable as Baloo (if only he had offered up a chorus or two of "Bare Necessities" from the Disney version, I would have danced into the aisles); and Anita Majumdar as Raksha and Bagheera are our versatile ensemble players.

This version of Jungle Book is strongly driven by the technical/visual elements. Scenic, prop and costume design by Astrid Janson and Melanie McNeil, lighting design by Rebecca Picherack, and media design by Irina Litvinenko all make substantial contributions to the overall quality of the production. Special kudos to puppetry consultant Frank Meschkuleit.

20K Collective's Jungle Book is a great place to introduce young people to the wonderful world of theatrical storytelling. Much is being done to engage the younger audience members, special family programming, photo opportunities with cast members and more. Regular theater audiences can enjoy this production alongside the children, grandchildren and maybe great grandchildren.

Jungle Book, through June 24, 2018, for Asolo Repertory Theatre, at the Mertz Theatre in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. Box Office 941-351-8000. For more information visit

Cast (in order of appearance):
Mowgli: Levin Valayil*
Akela/Baloo/Buldeo/Others: Matt Lacas*
Raksha/Bagheera/Messua/Others: Anita Majumdar*
Shere Khan/Kaa/Maya/Others: Miriam Fernandes*
*=Member of Canadian Actors' Equity Association