July 3, 2002 – An articulate menagerie, from a prancing peacock to a terrifying tiger, a sneaky snake and a mischievous monkey, plus a cool boy hero named Mowgli will take to the stage Thursday through Sunday when the Pistarckle Theater Kids Summer Camp presents a musical version of "The Jungle Book" at the Tillett Gardens playhouse on St. Thomas.
Holli Hornlien, an actress and director from Spokane, Wash., who has conducted two previous Pistarckle kids' camp productions, explains her choice of play: "While I was looking for scripts for the camp this winter, I stumbled on 'The Jungle Book.' I never read it as a child — and when I did, I loved it, for a number of reasons."
For one thing, Hornlien says, "in the aftermath of Sept. 11, there were a lot of hate groups. I've sensed that there are some racial tensions here in the Virgin Islands, too. So, the moral of 'The Jungle Book' is perfect. It's summed up by one of the major songs, a poem where the first verse says:
We are of one blood he and I,
We share the same land, water and sky.
It is jungle law we are taught to obey,
So with hand in claw,
We live side by side.
"Obviously too, a jungle theme works well here in the tropics," Hornlien adds. "It was also advantageous that the animals could be male or female. Typically in camp you'll get more girls. We also have a broad span of ages, from 8 to 15."
Hornlien sifted through six different versions of "The Jungle Book" before deciding on one by Pioneer Drama in Colorado. "It was most faithful to Rudyard Kipling's original book. It spoke right to the child in me," she says.
And it was a musical, which offered another advantage: "All the children are involved all the time," Hornlien notes. "If they aren't in a scene, they're working on their drama, singing or dance routines."
For the camp, the 28 young actors have been age-divided into three groups. Each group rotates through 45-minute long drama, music and dance classes before breaking for lunch, then everyone continues with play production in the afternoon.
"In drama, we've been learning about Mowgli's Indian culture and practicing with some short Sanskrit plays," Hornlien says. Members of St. Thomas's East Indian community have been guests, telling the youngsters about their country's history and traditions, even showing how a sari is worn so that the costuming in the play will be culturally correct.
Kim Crawley, a friend of Hornlien's and like her a member of the Spokane Interplayers Ensemble, is the music director, and Princess Penn of St. John is the choreographer. "We have seven songs in the show, ranging from a calypso tune sung by our monkeys to a real classic show tune performed by Shere Khan," Crawley says.
An exercise in music class entailed each youngster taking simple objects — such as film canisters, coffee cans and rubber bands — and using them to make a musical instrument to be used in the show. The children also have used their artistic talents to design posters, props, the stage back drop and costumes.
Ashley Wilkerson, 9, who plays the peacock, says, "I have beautiful feathers, and I get to prance around."
Reid Woods, 12, who portrays Baloo the Bear, says, "The costume is real fun. It's a big belly."
"The acting, singing and dancing — it's truly remarkable what these kids have accomplished in four weeks," Hornlien says. "They're wonderful and talented. Many good friendships have formed, and they've become a tight-knit ensemble."
As for what audiences can expect to see, "There are some great song-and-dance routines," she says. "Monkeys swing through the tree tops. Shere Khan [the tiger] slinks through the jungle. There are lots of surprises!"
Curtain time is 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and at 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Thursday is Pay As You Can Night, and Friday is officially opening night. Tickets are $6 for children under 10 and $12 for everyone else. They're being sold at Tillett Gallery, East End Secretarial Services, the American Yacht Harbor office, Marina Market, Draughting Shaft and Flagship; or call 775-7877.
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