The Jungle Book opens at the Paramount today

By Ari Balle-Bowness

THE Jungle Book might just be the best children’s show Echuca-Moama Theatre Company has staged. That might be because it’s the only one I’ve ever seen, but it might also be because its magic is irresistible.

From the minute the curtains part and Rudyard Kipling’s immortal tale takes over the theatre – and you. Transporting you to your own childhood when all you had to worry about was eating, sleeping and monkeying around.

Bringing together a stellar junior cast – backed by sensational choreography and music – we get to follow the story of man-cub Mowgli, who has been raised by wolves deep in the jungle. Stalked by the terrifying tiger Shere Khan, Mowgli’s animal family tries to convince him to abandon the jungle and live in the human world.

Nkiru Ekeanyanwu has nailed it as Mowgli – in pitch and persona. Seamlessly sliding into the role, Ekeanyanwu delivers an unforgettable performance of the man-cub trying to find his place in two worlds.

The brother-sister duo Digby and Ruby Newman harnessed all their sibling strengths to absolutely nail the ‘parental’ roles of Baloo the bear and Bagheera the panther.

It is hard to believe Digby is only 12 and Ruby 11 such is their dominance of the stage.

Ruby Miles was a second gem as the evil Shere Khan – her range and projection so unexpected and so effective.

The Jungle Book is a hive of onstage activity – even the buzzing bees, brought to life by Libby Johns and Grace McMaster, appear to be drifting in and out of the life-like branches and lotus flowers (which are a credit to the people behind the sets).

Hiding amongst the leaves, Meaghan Gould steps out of the shadows to deliver a beautifully rehearsed narration as Shanti, the girl from the village.

Audiences will be hypnotised as Kaa the snake, led by Georgia Cadd and assisted by Kinsey Graham, Libby Johns, Kokona Koreeda, Imogen Leersen and Hannah McBurnie, slithers onto stage.

Things look grim for poor little Mowgli as the huge snake coils its way around our transfixed star. But we’re not giving any more away.

Waving their arms like a babbling band of baboons, Aiden Anderson, Maya Wise, Jazmyn Parker, Sari McCormick, Parker Goulding and Tia Kirkpatrick give their youthful, and cheeky, exuberance full rein as they get down to their monkey business.

Amali Nunan might have you thinking apes are sick and tired of monkeying around, but her performance as King Louie leaves audiences wanting more chimp time.

Stomping across the stage, Georgia Weier, Melanie Francis, Rose Byrne, Maya Wise and Joshua Parker come up with a pachyderm cameo that captivates – led by the loud, proud and strong elephant Colonel Hathi, played by gifted 11-year-old Maverick Failla.

And it all comes together for the climactic showdown with the mighty Shere Khan and a finale with the whole ensemble.

Like so many things in the jungle, it is to the unseen much of the credit must go for this success. From the lights, sound effects, set designers, costumes, make-up and operations, the seemingly flawless execution of this fundamental work has been extraordinary.

Production manager Tamara Cadd is not listed in the starring credits but undeniably is a star of the show and the beautiful songs of the jungle wouldn’t be as pitch perfect without her and Lesley Summers’ musical direction.

Ditto for choreographers Lily Miles and Greer Thompson. But none would have been possible without the guidance and direction of director Lesley Summers and assistant director Ivy Jensen (it was hard to believe this is Ivy’s directorial debut).

Every inch of the directorduo’s imagination and creativity has been harnessed in this head bopping, hip shaking, hand clapping show.

What the cast of 24 budding stars aged eight to 12 and the production team have presented is nothing short of magical. So don’t wait for it to disappear, get your tickets and go on safari now.

■ The Jungle Book opens at the Paramount at 6.30pm today, followed by Back to the ’80s.