Last Saturday I took my three little assistants – ages almost 3 through 5 (with my big assistant for back-up) to see a musical adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book at the Media Theatre.
We pulled up in a misting rain and the little guys were transfixed by the rows of theatrical lights below the marquee. The theater was built in 1927 for vaudeville and even occasionally featured the “talkies”! It became a plain old movie theatre for a time. (I saw my first movie there, The Black Stallion in 1979! We had to leave in the middle, though, because there was a snake in the movie!) Through many transformations and an extensive renovation, through the take-over of non-profit management when a for-profit theater group disbanded, and after the adoption of a new mission to produce great American theater here in Delaware county, the building has retained its classic beauty and an air of sepia-toned magic.
The criteria for a great children’s production is a bit different for the adults buying the tickets than it is for the little audience members! The parking was super-easy. In spite of a few harmless Muppet Theatre type back-ups (running out of programs, confused patrons trying to figure out ticketing, etc.) we were deeply impressed that the theatre thoughtfully provided booster seats for our little guys and that the line for the bathroom somehow didn’t seem too long! The lights went down and out came the theatre rep for a rather long speech about the education program. A toddler girl then volunteered to go onstage, and was coaxed to sing to everyone’s delight! The talk wrapped up and the show began before anyone’s little angels began tearing the place down, so we were off to an excellent start!
Perhaps I was spoiled by the SRA Shakespeare kids (see last week’s SRA Shakespeare Review) but the story seemed to take a bit to get rolling. The student actors were adorable and cleverly paired with experienced professionals. Tim Haney was a funny and affable Baloo. JD Triolo as the ten year old Mowgli had a very pleasing voice and relaxed presence. Amber Duncan quietly gave Mowgli’s wolf-mom an Aunty Em-like quality that I liked very much. Aaliyah Michael had great charisma as one of the three silly hyenas. The little monkeys were appropriately mischievous! Patrick Murray anchored us with his narration as the adult Mowgli, with the help of Kristen Arbutina’s straightforward Bagheera. Roger Ricker, as King Louis, the monkey, kept the fun in the thing and danced, sang, and ribbed on the audience with with abandon! We would have loved to see this group get their paws on those expensive Disney rights as the music was not as engaging as the performers.
After the show, the actors gamely lined up in the lobby to be pawed over (or blinked shyly at) by their little fans. They let us take pictures with our iPhones. Not one main player was too cool to offer a paw to a child – no matter how small or sticky! Programs were available for taking home! The car was right out front and our three under 6 were buckled into the car without incident – a parents’ theatre dream!
We went home like nothing had happened. But this morning one little helper asked me plaintively, “Are we going to see The Jungle Book play again today?”
Tickets to the final performance, next Saturday, July 28th at 11am, are available at www.mediatheatre.org or by calling 610.891.0100. You can also learn more about the company, the history of the edifice, kids programming, the season for grown-ups and even the Delco Idol contest!