All Jungle VIPs

Welcome To The Jungle: Clifton Elementary School fifth graders bring the India bush to life with Disney’s The Jungle Book KIDS musical

CLIFTON – It is quite the adventurous and exciting story – a baby is abandoned to be raised by wolves in the Indian jungle. But as he grows into manhood, it is deemed by the Wolf Council that the Man Cub would be safer living with his own species.

On the journey from jungle to civilization where the boy is chaperoned by wise black panther and fun-loving bear they encounter several fun, exciting and dangerous moments involving and elephant march, a hypnotizing snake, pesky apes and monkeys, friendly vultures and the dreaded mean-tempered tiger.

But all’s well that ends well when friends come together and save the day, and the Man Cub – only for him to be bitten by the love bug for the lovely girl from the Mann Village.

Who doesn’t like Disney’s The Jungle Book KIDS musical adapted from the stories by English author Rudyard Kipling? And the story becomes even more charming when performed as a musical by the Clifton Elementary School fifth grade students.

It served as the eighth time that Musical Director Beth Fry and an army of volunteers embarked on the undertaking to share the magic of theater through three performances for friends and family. The audience was treated to a colorful, joyful musical in the state of the art Clifton Independent School District’s Performance Art Center March 3-4.

Getting more than 90 students on stage, singing, dancing and acting is a colossal project. The idea for the next musical starts to percolate in the summer for Fry, then auditions follow in December and formal rehearsals start in January.

All this effort is worthwhile because youth who perform gain skills that extend far beyond experiencing the thrill of the stage lights and the standing ovation – like mastering anxiety, overcoming shyness, memorizing skills, working as a team, staying on track, experience new emotions through the characters they play which in turn teaches empathy.

And last, but not least, having a great show and all the praise afterwards boosts a child’s self-esteem enormously.

When she first suggested doing a musical with this year’s fifth-graders, the students were not so enthusiastic. But after the performances, Fry pointed out how happy, excited and empowered they were about their accomplishments. Thanks to their performance, they went from fifth graders to Jungle VIPs.

Even though the original The Jungle Book stories date all the way back to 1894, Kipling’s archetypes in the form of animals and the strong bonds of friendship still engages young and old.

The verses of "The Law of the Jungle," for example, lay down rules for the safety of individuals, families, and communities. In his youthful ignorance Mowgli breaks a few of those rules, and falls under Python Ka’s hypnotic spell with the song “Trust in Me.” And then there’s the elephant’s march under the direction of Colonel Hathi, perfectly suited to a troupe of benevolent heavies. The verses of “The Bare Necessities” of course typify Baloo’s easy-go-lucky approach to life.

Orangutan King Louie’s wish to become more like the humans by conquering fire in the swinging Louis Prima original “I Wanna Be Like You” explains why this pack of pesky monkeys kidnapped Mowgli on his journey to a man village in the first place. Even though the vultures at first seem ominous, their approach to life is “We’ve never met an animal we didn’t like!” and “That’s what friends are for.”

In the fifth grade performance, all these characters came to life in the spotlights in colorful costumes, amazing décor and top-notch make up, and the audience happily sang along with the oh-so familiar songs. Some even kept humming them as they left the PAC smiling, bubbling with pride over the student performances.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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