‘Jungle Book’ a first for Porter Ridge kids

by Josh Whitener

INDIAN TRAIL – After 55 hours of rehearsal time over the course of five months, a group of 50 fourth- and fifth-graders from Porter Ridge Elementary School proudly presented the school’s first full-length musical stage production: “Disney’s The Jungle Book KIDS.”

The auditorium stage at nearby Porter Ridge High transformed Wednesday, March 21, into a jungle – complete with singing and dancing monkeys, elephants, trees, bees, panthers, bears, tigers and one lost little boy. All of Porter Ridge Elementary’s teachers, administrators and students showed up to support the production.

“The Jungle Book KIDS” is a trimmed-down version of the original stage play, adapted specifically for elementary-aged students. The play generally runs about 40 minutes long, and the vocal arrangements are specially designed to suit children’s voices.

Porter Ridge Elementary music teacher Bridget Burrows organized and directed the show, along with fifth-grade teacher Angela Gaio and art teacher Katie Riedinger. “We’ve never done (a musical) before,” Burrows said. “(The students) learned about stage direction and projection of their voice. They’re learning how to read, not just to read it, but interpret it in how they’re supposed to act and behave.”

For the four lead roles – Mowgli the boy, Bagheera the panther, Baloo the bear and Shere Khan the tiger – Burrows chose fourth-grader Aniyah Moore and fifth-graders Sami Bellai, Caleb Chipman and E.J. Collins. Beginning in October, all the show’s actors met after school on Mondays and Thursdays from 2 to 3:15 p.m. to rehearse for the play.

From the beginning, the students and their parents understood the show would require more dedication than anything the school had previously presented.

“I’ve performed with Ms. Burrows before, but this is our first musical we’ve ever done,” Caleb said. “Having a big part, it put a lot of, I’m not gonna say ‘pressure,’ but responsibility on me.”

Burrows considered choosing “101 Dalmatians KIDS” for the musical, but ultimately stuck with “The Jungle Book KIDS” because of the originality. “I love the music,” she said. “The storyline is fun. It’s easy to follow, it’s funny. This was something different (that’s) good for both genders, boy and girl, to get into.”

Thanks to a $500 grant from the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center, the school was able to purchase the CD (which includes the instrumental performance tracks), director’s guide, student script books and the rights to perform the play.

No costumes were purchased for the production. Each costume was made from donated material, like sweatpants, sweatshirts and felt, all sewn together. Riedinger, along with a student’s parent, created the costumes. She also constructed the set, with the help of some of her art students, who painted some of the props and background scenery.

A combination of sources were used to choreograph the show. Burrows and Gaio did most of the choreography themselves. Some of the dances were modeled from watching the DVD that came with the director’s guide, and one student choreographed almost an entire dance sequence for the monkeys.

Burrows used a casting template from the director’s guide to choose the right student to play each part. Students were required to attend an audition, which included reading lines from the play, performing a short dance routine and singing part of a song. Students could choose to audition for a certain role, but Burrows ultimately chose to place them where she felt they fit best.

E.J. originally auditioned for Baloo, but was cast as Shere Khan instead. Playing the main villain was a bit of a challenge. “It was kind of hard because you have to have a lot of bass in your voice, and you have to try not to smile when something (funny) happens to you,” he said. “I kind of had trouble with that, trying not to laugh.”

For Caleb, playing Baloo was just like playing himself. “I was never out of character,” he said. “I’m always like this.”

He did say learning where to stand on stage and when to perform a specific action could be difficult at times.

Two more performances were planned for Thursday and Friday, both at 7 p.m. After the first show, Burrows was confidant the students would triumph through the other two presentations.

“They’re awesome,” she said. “Even on their worst day, they’re the most well-behaved kids. They listen. They take instruction. They really fell into their characters. I couldn’t be more proud of these kids and all of their hard work.”

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