We have all heard of Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, Akela, Kaa and the myriad of other animals in Rudyard Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’: maybe because we watched the celebrated Disney animation, maybe because we were in cub scouts, or maybe we even read the book! By today’s standards, it’s a tricky read for children – and possibly even for adults. Its chronology jumps about all over the place, the language is challenging, as is the syntax. And yet it is hugely evocative, full of the most wonderful imagery, descriptions, insights, storylines and characters, most of which barely feature in film adaptations. As a musical for children, it offers the chance to take some of the characters and elements of the different stories, and weave them into a dramatic, funny, quirky and hugely enjoyable piece of theatre. We hope, with this brand new version, that we have done just that.
The scene is set as the ensemble sing the opening song (SOMEWHERE IN THE JUNGLE), telling us a little of the history of Mowgli’s time in the jungle and how he was welcomed by everybody . . . well, almost everybody.
With her eggs ready to hatch any day, Chil, the kite, is pleased at the return of her partner, Bill. They see Baloo the bear enter the clearing, closely followed by a number of young wolves ready for today’s lessons. Mowgli is late: he has been talking with the monkeys – the Bandar-log – for which he is immediately scolded by Baloo. Bagheera, the panther, enters and reminds Mowgli that dangers lurk everywhere in the jungle, but Mowgli is very confident in his own survival skills (LEADER OF THE PACK). Showing off to the others, he is then embarrassed and ashamed when his mother wolf, Raksha, enters.
Some of the wolf pack have gathered, shocked to hear that Akela has missed his kill. They discuss who might take over from him. Shere Khan, the tiger, enters along with Tabaqui, the jackal. They mock the wolves for allowing a man-cub to live amongst them, and question the wolves’ own identity (WE ARE WOLVES).
Mowgli is receiving further instruction from Baloo and Bagheera, in particular about learning to communicate with other animals (TONGUES OF THE JUNGLE) with the exception of the Bandar-log!
Three monkeys have been sent to kidnap Mowgli. Though easily distracted, they eventually lift the sleeping boy up into the canopy. Baloo and Bagheera wake and immediately start tracking them, sending Bill, the kite, ahead.
Akela is confronted by Shere Khan and his new wolf friends. Shere Khan tells Akela he will happily forego taking Akela’s place as leader if the man-cub is handed over to him. Suddenly Tabaqui enters with news that Mowgli has been kidnapped by the monkeys and that Baloo and Bagheera are in pursuit. Knowing he is now unprotected, Shere Khan and his gang set off to find him as Raksha worries about her little boy (WHISPER ON THE BREEZE).
Kaa, the python, is dozing, frustrated at the disrespect of a nearby porcupine (SNAKE EYES). Baloo and Bagheera enter and trick Kaa into helping them to rescue Mowgli. Bill enters and informs them that Mowgli is being held prisoner by the monkeys in an ancient city built in the jungle by humans, but now a monkey stronghold.
Bill returns to Chil, his partner, speaking proudly of his involvement in finding Mowgli. Shere Khan, Tabaqui and their gang of wolves enter and force him to reveal all that he knows, much to Chil’s frustration.
The monkeys are delighted to have captured Mowgli and sing triumphantly of their many qualities (WE’RE ALL MONKEYS). They decide to collect sticks so that Mowgli can teach them how to weave them together, but they are easily distracted and scatter to find nuts and pawpaw for a party. Mowgli is left alone with only the smoking embers of his fire-pot for company. Suddenly, Baloo and Bagheera enter from different directions and face the monkeys. Mowgli escapes as told, then Kaa enters and places the monkeys into a trance whereby he has complete control over them.
Alone in the jungle, Mowgli is surrounded by Shere Khan’s wolves. He speaks to them as brothers, but they are far from friendly. Shere Khan enters (SHERE KHAN) and Mowgli has to think quickly in order to survive. He threatens them all with the contents of his fire-pot. Anxious, the wolves start to depart. Shere Khan is furious with them and calls them cowards. They turn on him. Shere Khan grabs hold of Mowgli and is about to strike him when Mowgli throws the embers from his fire-pot into Shere Khan’s face. It buys him time, but only for a moment. Khan sets himself once more to strike, when Raksha enters and faces him, along with her young wolf cubs. Khan is about to attack when Baloo, Bagheera and Kaa enter. Khan knows the game is up, and leaves with his tail between his legs, never to be seen again (KING OF THE JUNGLE).