October 19, 2006


"Jungalbook" at New World Repertory Theater

It doesn't take long to figure out that the new adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's classic is no Disney version. Within the first 10 minutes, Baloo the Bear is teaching us the "Law of the Jungle," including rules about killing and murder. (Parents of small children should know that one of the main characters is killed during the show). Although I think these ideas make this show more suitable to kids ages 5 and up, this play is basically about the concept of family responsibility.

Mowgli the Jungle Boy, wonderfully acted by eighth-grader Michael Raleigh, considers himself a wolf for most of the play. Pursued relentlessly by the nasty Sherakahn, he struggles with ideas of humanity, responsibility and death. This is big role for such a young actor but Raleigh is completely believable even in the play's most emotional moments.

The play's director, Jean Gottleib, has done an excellent job of bringing the jungle to life through unique choreography and great physicalization of animal characteristics. Although Kaa (Courtney Burton) doesn't actually crawl along the ground, her constantly slithering arms and overly enunciated "s" sounds evoke Kipling's hypnotic snake beautifully. Likewise Angelique Westerfield's posture, vocal tone and spry movements across the stage make the heroic Bagheera very real. My sons and I were also astounded by the creation of a "river" through a simple piece of blue fabric and great choreography.

Gottleib also does a good job weaving humor into this relatively serious play. Perchy the monkey, played with great comic timing by Karin Carr, always lightens the mood when she appears. My 4-year-old loved how she jumped and climbed, constantly swinging her arms and "monkeying around." When Mowgli enters the "Man Village" for the first time, he encounters an elephant, skillfully played by two actors working in unison. It was creative, funny and touching.

It was the first time my sons have seen a play where roles are played by both adult and child actors. I found it interesting that they made no distinction among them. Driving home, they talked about the show only in terms of the characters, which I think is a great testament to the cast and crew of this production. Alena Murguia

"Jungalbook" runs Saturdays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. through Nov. 18 at New World Repertory Theater, 923 Curtiss St. in Downers Grove. (630) 663-1489 or www.newworldrep.org.

 "Beauty and the Beast"     

Nicky, Paris, American Idol, Extreme Makeover and The West Wing in a production of "Beauty and the Beast?" At Marriott Lincolnshire's Theater for Young Audiences, this is the case. This version is completely different than the "Beauty and the Beast" you probably own on home video, and includes quite a twist.

This show seems to begin as we know it, with a narrator telling us the story of the Beast with the usual characters on stage, Mrs. Potts, Gaston, Lumiere and the Wardrobe. However Cindy (Christine Bunuan), a cast member playing a young audience member, doesn't like the way the story is going to be told and runs onstage with her new version of the script. This is the one the stage manager decides to follow, so Cindy becomes the show's new director.

The actors and actresses adjust well to the new script. Except for Studley (Jim Rank), who has his own ideas on how the story should be told. Eventually, the audience votes him out of the cast. My personal favorite member of this cast was Maxwell (Mark David Kaplan). Every line he said had so much energy, and his script was so cleverly written. Audiences may remember Kaplan's great portrayal of Snoopy in "You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown."

After Cindy starts directing her new version of the play, the audience is introduced to Rose (named Belle in the Disney classic) played by Cassie Wooley, and her two evil sisters (Christine Sherrill and Cheryl Avery). (This setup, in a way, resembles Cinderella.) Papa (Joel Hatch), the owner of a ship, gets a letter stating that pirates have taken over the helm. The ship was all the family had. Papa sets out in the middle of the night to find his ship, and gets lost. Then, as we all know, he comes across the Beast's castle, where he asks for shelter. And, the rest is history. Or is it?

The story takes on many familiar themes along with some amazing new ones. I won't ruin the many surprises for you. This is also a very interactive show, with the actors many times asking for input to the script or even having a kid coming onstage to briefly take over a character's role.

The end of the play is quite unique, when the Beast (Bernie Yvon) transforms into a handsome prince. It is amazing how the cast is able to transfer the audience's attention at the right times while costume changes are taking place.

As always there is a question and answer session between the audience and cast after the show, so stick around if you can and learn a lot about the "behind the scenes" of the show. Make sure to ask about the end, as they have some interesting information to share with you. The production runs about one hour.

The twists and turns in the story didn't seem to bother most kids in the audience once they caught on to the new story. Addie, a 5-year-old from Lake Forest, told me she loved the new version. Her favorite part was when the Beast turned into a prince. I also got the reactions of a group of 7-year-olds who all agreed that they really enjoyed the new version of this play. Most other little kids in the audience seemed to enjoy it, although a few of the jokes were aimed more toward the adults. 

Marriott Lincolnshire's adaptation of Beauty and the Beast is staged so that it doesn't scare younger kids. The Beast's costume and makeup is pretty mild. In this show, Papa does not have any physical contact with the Beast at all. This play does not include any blood during the scene where Studley and the Beast have a sword fight. It is very different from the Disney version in terms of scariness.

My family and I have made the Marriott show a holiday tradition with our friends for many years. The lobby of the hotel is decorated each year and is a great place to take photos with your kids before or after the show.

I gave "Beauty and the Beast" an A- because I thought that it was clever, well written and had a great cast. My mom gave the show an A because she thought that it was funny and she loved the original adaptation of the script. My mom also thinks the moral of the play is the same everywhere.

"It doesn't matter what people look like on the outside, it's what inside that matters." So if you are open to the idea that you will not be seeing "Beauty and the Beast" as you know it, I encourage you to give this production a try. It really is worth it. Allie Sakowicz, 12

"Beauty and the Beast" is now playing at the Marriott Lincolnshire Theater for Young Audiences (10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire). Tickets are $10. Call (847)-634-0200 for show dates and times. The show runs through Dec. 30.

 The annual Trail of History brings the past to life

Every year, my family and I look forward to traditional fall outings. But this autumn, we are taking a trip back in time - to the Trail of History held at Glacial Park in Ringwood. The Trail of History is a living history reenactment with participants coming from across the country to portray life in the Northwest Territory during the years 1670 through 1850. This annual event, held this year on Oct. 21-22 by the McHenry County Conservation District, truly brings history to life for children as well as adults.

In the previous years, we toured a log cabin as part of the trail, watching as a family of pioneers went about their daily life. Re-enactors dressed in period costumes demonstrated their crafts and trades. Storytellers, puppeteers and dancers provided entertainment, with the beautiful fall colors of the prairie and forests for a backdrop.

The time travel begins with a one-mile hike on the trail leading back to a large clearing, where 140 encampments are constructed. Four stages and a Village Green host musicians, dancers and fortune tellers. Children can "attend" a makeshift frontier schoolhouse and try their skills in a spelling bee or an arithmetic lesson. For recess, they can participate in old-fashioned games such as tug of war, marbles and tops. Ambitious youngsters can even sign a contract to become a tradesman's apprentice and perform chores such as gathering firewood, beating rugs or fetching water. For a slower pace, you can make a cornhusk doll or visit the dress-up tent to try on period clothing. 

Each year, the conservation district tries to make the event more interactive, says Mary Keith, volunteer coordinator for the Trail of History. "This is a place that the entire family can visit and have fun and be out for the entire day. We want to make this accessible for everyone and we are proud of the fact that it is still affordable." Lisa Stiegman

The Trail of History is located at 6316 Harts Road in Ringwood. Hours are 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for children ages 6-12 and senior citizens. Children 5 and under are free. A shuttle is available for those unable to hike to the site. For more information, call (815) 338-6223 or visit www.mccdistrict.org.


 "You're Not Alone"

The documentary "You're Not Alone" follows three sets of Chicago parents of special needs children. Produced by Julia Peterson, a local special needs parent, the documentary is as much a story about the parents coping with their children's condition rather than just another film about children with special needs and how they cope with life.

In the film, which debuts on WTTW Channel 11 at 6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 22, Peterson and her crew let the parents' stories speak for themselves, accompanied by a soundtrack featuring the soft-rock music of Critical Mass.

We meet Mazola Simpson, a single mother who was told her son, Thaddeus, now 20, would be blind, unable to walk and suffer from kidney failure. He has slow motor skills, but is otherwise healthy. Her oldest son, Daniel, 23, was diagnosed with narcolepsy at age 6.

Mazola, a church-going woman, set aside her aspirations to become a certified public accountant to care for her sons. Her youngest son, Obie, become the man of the family, she said.

"I don't see them as special needs," said Simpson. "They're just part of the family." Simpson, an African-American woman, said she was told by social workers her boys would end up in jail or in gangs. That kind of talk, in addition to their condition, didn't sway her.

The film introduces us to Julie Schrager and her friend David Dana. Her daughter, Claire, who's 4, suffered brain damage during birth and cannot walk or talk. We learn that Julie and her then-husband reacted very differently to their daughter's condition, leading to the breakup of their marriage

Not so with Pat and Bryan Lee, whose energetic son, Alexander, is autistic. Alexander likes to dance, sing and is very talkative. His brain, according to his parents, is in overdrive. Just watching his parents try to keep up with him can be tiresome, yet very engaging.

The Lees, who have a 10-year-old son, Kyle, who is not a special needs child, learned to get strength and support from one another.

"It's been really hard. There are some days when I get really stressed out," said Pat, "and Bryan is always there and he makes it easy, especially when I have bad days. We just pulled each other together."

That's really the theme behind the whole film, Peterson points out.

These parents shared similar stories of having little or no knowledge of the conditions related to special needs children and how to deal with them. The transition period they had after learning of their children's condition was short, if for nothing else, out of necessity

Dr. Ken Moses, a psychologist and special needs parent who admitted to going into denial for two years after learning of his son's condition, said parents exhibit a range of painful emotions, and shouldn't feel guilty. Such feeling can transform parents into accepting the child they have rather than dreaming of the child they wish they'd had. "We learn that our worth as human beings is not about what we do or what we have, but who we are," he said.

The film offers a lot of material while also leaving out a lot details. That may be the result of the process of filmmaking than the film itself. There's only so much one can cram into an hour-long documentary. Issues such as how marriages can suffer by the child's condition could stand alone in its own documentary. And the film touches only briefly on how siblings cope with their special needs brothers and sisters.

Aside from a few minor complaints, the film accomplishes what it sets out to do: offer a support system and first-hand guide for parents.  Terry Dean

Kids Eat Chicago

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