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(Posted 10 a.m., March 28)
Missoula Children's 'Jungle Book' is simply adorable

By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Shere Khan, played by Charlotte Rodgers, stalks Mowgli, who is played by Lauryn Maitz, during the Missoula Children's Theatre production of 'The Jungle Book'. Fred Sherwin/Photo

The Missoula Children's Theatre Company has been traveling the world for the past 40 years, instilling the joy of theatre in young hearts along with an important life lesson.

For at least 15 of those years, the MCT has stopped in Orléans where each year as many as 50 kids between the ages of five and 17 take part in the week-long production.

Missoula's instructors fan out across North America in pairs and they only go where they are invited. They travel in their own vehicles packed full with costumes and a backdrop for the stage. To keep costs down, the instructors are billetted with host families who help publicize and promote the local productions.

Auditions for this year's traveling production of "The Jungle Book" were held on Monday during which each budding actor is cast as a member of the ensemble. The younger kids usually form the chorus while the teenagers are cast in the lead roles.

Four days of after school rehearsals followed leading up to two performances. The first was held last night at the Shenkman Arts Centre. The second performance will take place this morning at 11 a.m.

Last night's opening was filled with what audiences have come to expect from the whirlwind production. Lots of enthusiasm. Plenty of music. A few laughs and a cuteness quotient that was off the charts.

There's something about five and six-year-old kids dressed up as monkeys that can't help, but put a smile on your face.

The play itself followed the story of the popular children's book with all the main characters, including Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera, Akela and Shere Khan, told with the underlying message that no matter how challenging life can get, you are never alone when you have friends and family.

Lauryn Maitz was cast in the lead role of Mowgli. Although she did a great job throughout the play, her star shone brightest when she was able to show off her amazing singing voice.

I enjoyed Christina Dale's performance, as well, as Mowgli's childhood friend Bagheera. But I was especialy thrilled to see Charlotte Rodgers cast as Shere Khan, the determined tiger who wants to harm Mowgli.

Rodgers was brilliant as the lead actor in last year's production of "Pinochio", and she delivers another strong performance as Shere Khan, a role that demands a larger than life stage presence.

But my surpise performance of the night was delivered by Sydney Maloney who had me in stitches as Shere Khan's sidekick Tabaqui.

In terms of shere cuteness, Shannon Jaspers-Fayer and Skyler Begin were off the charts as Wolfy and Hathi the elephant. And then there's Lucas Guertin who drew laughs everytime he came on the stage as Buck.

The rest of the lead cast includes Kaitlyn Scheiman as Akela; Trista Willbond as Mother Wolf; Jasper Hupe as Father Wolf; Grace Pearce as the young Mowgli; Alexandra Molino as Rikki-Tikki-Tavi; Cora Willbond as Darzee; Maya Partrick as Nagaina; and Samuel Pearce as Nag.

The rest of the cast were placed in the chorus which included the Wolf Pack, the Monkey People, the Wolf Pups. and Kaa the snake which was cleverly made up of seven of the youngsters.

I'm always amazed at what a terrific job the young cast does given the condensed production schedule. To go from auditions to a live performance in just four days is a challenge even for the most seasoned of actors, but to do so with a cast of 47, half of whom are under the age of eight, is nothing short of extraordinary which speaks volumes of the abilities of Missoula instructors Kevin Moxley and Olivia Wardwell.

You can watch the second peformance of "The Jungle Book" this morning at 11 a.m. in the Richcraft Theatre at the Shenkman Arts Centre. Tickets are $10 each at the door.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

 

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