Bay City Players Explore the Timeless Jungle of Kipling's Magical Meditations

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, Theatre,   From Issue 836   By: Robert E Martin

25th November, 2016     0

Originally released back in 1894, The Jungle Book is a collection of masterfully woven stories by English author Rudyard Kipling that are essentially fables, giving animals human traits and mannerisms in order to convey moral lessons that ring eternal.

Indeed, since its inception over a century ago the wisdom imparted through these enlightening tales have witnessed numerous adaptions, most notably through the classic Disney film; and even as a Broadway musical; but now Bay City Players are busily preparing their own translation of this timeless classic for a series of performances that will run December 2-4 and 9-11th.

With Joseph Robinette’s stage adaption of The Jungle Book, one of literature's most enduring classics is brought vividly to the stage in this exciting adventure of Mowgli, the Indian boy, raised by caring wolves, befriended by Bagheera, the Panther, and Baloo, the Bear, and threatened by Shere Kahn, the evil tiger. But even more enchanting in this production is the vast array of other jungle creatures who inhabit the landscape in this action-filled play.

What makes this Robinette adaption engaging is the manner by which this legendary narrative is also interspersed with the equally intriguing story of the author himself - a young Rudyard Kipling, who is sent from his home in Bombay to a British boarding school where he encounters his own "jungle," including people—both good and otherwise—who parallel many of the animal characters that he created in his masterpiece.

Filled with excitement and humor, the play highlights the struggle of good versus evil, the worth of friendship, and the importance of loyalty and other values required for surviving the "law of the jungle." While very young audiences will delight in the portrayal of the animals and the fast paced action, older audiences will be fascinated by the character relations and the story itself, as well as the unique introduction to the author.

According to director Lee Austin, it is this inventive approach that serves to distinguish this particular adaptation of The Jungle Book.  “The production team has taken to calling our stage presentation the "prequel" to all the other Jungle Books. On our stage you will meet a young Rudyard, still in school in England, separated from his beloved India and from his parents, subjected to bullying from schoolmates on a regular basis.”

“But from his tribulation comes triumph,” reflects Lee.  “What I love best about this show is how a young boy's imagination provides first comfort to him as an escape from his reality, and then he shapes that fantasy into a bold essay with a message that humbles his schoolmates, his teachers and readers for generations.”

Thematically, there are a few core elements that Lee is trying to focus the emphasis upon as a director.  “The main theme of this show that I believe in so strongly is that we are all meant to live in harmony. We may look different and come from different backgrounds and cultures, we may have different languages and customs, but if we remember Baloo's laws of the jungle…if we ask before taking, if we say thank you, if we try and understand each inhabitant of this earth and respect their ways, living in harmony is MORE than a fictional is truly possible.”

Austin’s directorial background began with undergraduate work in Theatre at Stockton University in New Jersey, graduating with a Bachelors in Theatre Arts and subsequently serving as Production Manager for Gateway Playhouse in Somers Pt., New Jersey.

“In the 1980's I acted and directed in numerous shows on the east coast, but when I felt called to the ministry and returned to school and was also raising 3 sons and 3 foster daughters as a single parent, theatre took a back seat for a while.  But recently the thespian within could not remain dormant and I came to Bay City Players and was lucky enough to assistant direct Suite Surrender and Jesus Christ Superstar. This is my first Directing Experience for the Players and I am fortunate to have a wonderful production staff making me look so good.”

Given the ambitious nature and elaborate costuming involved with this production of The Jungle Book, what has posed the biggest challenge for Lee in shaping this production for the stage?

“The most challenging component about pulling this production together has been having the entire cast present for rehearsal.  When working with motivated teenagers, we picked kids who have cheerleading, soccer and basketball conflicts, and of course adults that have job and family conflicts. Judy Miller has been my production manager and has kept track of all the players' conflicts. Without her I would have torn out every hair on my head in frustration. This cast is deeply committed to the show, but scheduling problems happen and the characters have been great at adapting to talking to air when they have to. As long as everyone shows up for performances, we'll be fine!”

“One exciting special aspect of our show has been the collaboration with Studio 23 to have the kids paint the trees and the backgrounds to be projected throughout the show,” adds Lee.  “The result has been fantastic!. Studio 23 kids are also providing our lobby art, all of which has been made possible through partial funding by a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

The role of Rudyard Kipling as a school boy is being performed by Louis VanValkenburg and other actors in the production include Avery LeFevre, Kyler Rytlewski, Elijah Holnagel, Jenna McKinght, Karlie McFarland, Joy Howell, James Strieter, Dale Sneller, Elizabeth Simon, and Amanda Martin, to name but several in this rather large ensemble cast of 25 actors; not to mention the ancillary actors playing wolves and monkeys, flying birds, and buzzing bees.

For a decided lift to your spirits this holiday season, be sure not to miss this engaging foray into the many lessons to be learned within the thicket of the jungle that both encompasses, and defines, our humanity.

Bay City Players production of ‘The Jungle Book’ will run Dec. 2-4 & 9-11. Bay City Players is located at 1214 Columbus in Bay City. Tickets are available by phoning 989-893-8555 for visiting


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