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Published July 21 2010

REVIEW: Gooseberry's play a feel-good take on ‘Book’

It was hard not to feel kind of happy at the end of the Gooseberry Park Players’ opening performance of “The Jungle Book” on Tuesday night.

Kids were singing a lilting melody to tribal drum music with a quaint Indian village silhouetted against a dusk-colored backdrop. The crowd of 375 was doting on the cast like that cheek-pinching aunt who still thought you were “just the cutest thing” at age 15. And the good guy was riding off into the sunset with his girl by his side – metaphorically speaking.

This musical actually isn’t the familiar Disney version of Rudyard Kipling’s famous novel, but a Hungarian take on his tale of a boy named Mowgli who grows up in a jungle in India and struggles to find his place in the world as a man. In fact, the performance marked the U.S. premiere of “A Dzsungel Konyve,” as it’s known in its homeland.

GPP cast members portrayed a range of moods, from joy to sorrow to humor to poignancy. It had moments of tenderness, humor and tension.

Of course, the GPP production bears the marks of youth theater with some wobbly voiced notes, moments of surfacy acting and a dance misstep or two.

But it also had the audience by the heartstrings.

Loren Haagenson of Moorhead called it “very entertaining.”

Cheri Schoenfish of Briarwood thought the show was “great.”

“I think the set and the costumes are amazing,” said Schoenfish.

Her son is in the production, “so maybe I’m a little biased,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

Behind all the particulars of the production and audience reaction was an interesting exploration of some pretty heady issues, such as the rule of law (there is frequent quoting of the jungle law), separation (one of the most poignant moments is when Mowgli bids a tearful farewell to his father figure, Baloo the bear), and independence (Mowgli is told he has to find his own way in the world).

It also explores that universal question of what it means to be human and that strange blend of both evil and the potential for greatness so tightly bound into the nature of humanity. At one point, Bagheera the panther tells Mowgli she didn’t want him to become a man because men are “evil” and, yet, that she wanted him to become a man because “men can be wonderful.”

But if this “Jungle Book” demands a bit more of an audience member than its lighter-hearted Disney counterpart, the audience at Tuesday’s show didn’t seem to mind. They cheered like it was Broadway.

If you go

What: Gooseberry Park Players’ production of “A Dzsungel Konyve,” a Hungarian-created musical based on Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”

When: 7 tonight through Saturday; 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday

Where: Frances Frazier Comstock Theater at Concordia College