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Purple Rumble in the Jungle

Northwestern alumni run wild in new production of ‘The Jungle Book’

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August 2, 2013 | by Matt Paolelli

This time Northwestern University’s Mary Zimmerman is using her magic to adapt and direct an energetic new musical based on “The Jungle Book.”

The visionary director and professor of performance studies has plenty of company from Northwestern in her exuberant stage adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's 1893 collection of stories and Walt Disney's 1967 animated film, both set in the Indian jungle.

The world premiere of the show runs through Aug. 18 at the Goodman Theatre, and later the production travels to Boston.

The Wildcat is the true king of the jungle in this production. Northwestern is represented in every aspect of the show -- from the music director and actors to the costume designer.

Northwestern theater alumni have long had a strong presence in the Chicago theater scene as directors, actors, composers, musicians and stage hands. This production continues that long tradition.

Zimmerman and her team have infused Indian influences into the show’s design, choreography and casting, taking their cue from the setting of the Kipling stories.

“My strongest idea was to take Indian forms of representation -- meaning in music, in dance, in ways of drawing and representing animals -- and bringing that into ‘The Jungle Book,’” Zimmerman said. “I just had this odd instinctive feeling that the music from the film would accommodate that move.”

Music director Doug Peck (Weinberg ’03) took research trips to India to study Indian music and gain inspiration. He also worked closely with Richard Sherman, one of the original composers of the songs in the Disney film, to fuse the Indian music sound with the Dixieland jazz vibe of the Sherman’s songs. The new orchestrations feature trumpets, saxophones and trombones, as well as the sounds of sitars, dhols and Indian snake trumpets.

“I hope it’s as fun for people to watch as it is for us to do,” said actor Anjali Bhimani (Communication ’96).

Bhimani plays Raksha, the mother wolf who raises Mowgli.

“Between Dan’s amazing set that he has created and the costumes, you’re transported into a new world,” she said. “That’s what powerful theater is about.”  

Northwestern Wildcats in “The Jungle Book” also include actor Govind Kumar (Communication ’08), costume designer Mara Blumenfeld (Communication ’92) and set designer Daniel Ostling (Communication ’96).

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