Here’s How Mary Zimmerman Created Goodman Theatre’s ‘The Jungle Book’

It took the Disney film, Kipling’s text, and two trips to India to get the story right.

As told to Catey Sullivan

The 1967 Disney film; Rudyard Kipling; Richard Sherman; scouting shots Zimmerman took in India; and sitar rehearsal

Photography: (film still) ©Walt Disney Pictures/Courtesy of Everette Collection; (Sherman) ©Walt Disney Pictures/Courtesy of Everette Collection; (rehearsal) Mary Zimmerman and Daniel Ostling/Courtesy of the Goodman Theatre
 

Clockwise from top left: The 1967 Disney film; Rudyard Kipling; Richard Sherman; scouting shots Zimmerman took in India; and sitar rehearsal

Adapter extraordinaire Mary Zimmerman recaps how she created The Jungle Book musical for the Goodman Theatre (June 21 to July 28, goodmantheatre.org).

The Jungle Book isn’t an Indian world, or an English world, or an American one. It’s a world of imagination—a paradise you’re going to lose. Mowgli will leave the jungle, but while he’s there, there’s incredible wonderment.

Shere Khan sketch
Sketch: Costume Designer Mara Blumenfeld/Courtesy of the Goodman Theatre
 

Shere Khan sketch

“We’re using the Disney film (1) as our base, with all the original songs. [The film was adapted from the 1894 story by Rudyard Kipling (2).] We’ve been working really closely with composer Richard Sherman (3) [he wrote the Disney score with his brother Robert, who died in 2012]. I’m enchanted by Richard. He has such vitality for an 84-year-old. His house has Disney memorabilia everywhere—there’s a stuffed King Louie behind the piano bench. We spent hours there, running through music. There are these wonderful songs the Sherman brothers wrote for a sequel. We’ve repurposed those—‘Baloo’s Blues’ and ‘It’s a Kick’—for a 13-piece orchestra, which will be half clarinets and horns and half Indian instruments (4) [sitars, vinas, tablas] for a fusion of Western and Eastern music.

“Our team took two trips to India (5, 6) for inspiration. India is the brightest place on earth, almost electric. There’s nothing on the set or in the costuming that isn’t rooted in something we saw in India. I saw this amazing painting in New Delhi of someone slaying a demon dressed in an orange-and-red-striped skirt, just like a tiger. That’s pretty much the costume for [tiger] Shere Khan (7) [who will be played by Larry Yando]. The whole show is set in the jungle. Well, almost. There are a few surprises.”

RELATED: How Mary Zimmerman Handled Kipling’s Racism and Misogyny in the New Jungle Book Musical »

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