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WonderQuest actors turn into wild animals in original tale of 'The Jungle Book'

Jungle Book Mowgli
WonderQuest, the young audiences division of the Gainesville Theatre Alliance (GTA), is producing Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" through Oct. 6. GTA is a nationally acclaimed collaboration between the University of North Georgia (UNG), Brenau University, theatre professionals, and the northeast Georgia community. Mowgli is portrayed by Brenau freshman Josh Turner and Baloo is portrayed by Brenau senior Ameena McKenzie. (Photo by Simpson Custom Photography)

Disney is known for revamping tales from the Grimm brothers, Hans Christian Andersen and others into animated classics with memorable music and iconic characters.

But WonderQuest director Gay Hammond believes children should see the originals so she has adapted Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" for the stage.

WonderQuest is the young audiences division of the Gainesville Theatre Alliance (GTA), a nationally acclaimed collaboration between the University of North Georgia (UNG), Brenau University, theatre professionals, and the northeast Georgia community. It is the only organization in north Georgia dedicated to offering professionally produced theater shows specifically for children and their families.

"I believe children should get to know classic literature in addition to Disney version," said Hammond, an associate professor of theater at Brenau. "Rudyard Kipling's version is more solemn."

"The Jungle Book" is the story of a "man-cub" named Mowgli, who is raised by animals in India. He is protected by his faithful friends, Baloo the bear, and Bagheera the panther. Together the trio try to discover what is best: the law of man or the law of the jungle? During the journey, Mowgli must use both to save his animal friends and himself from the wrath of Shere Khan the tiger.

Hammond adapted the play originally 10 years ago, because she likes classical literature.

"I'm a nut about storybooks, fairy tales and mythology," she said, adding it is specifically geared it for a family audience. "WonderQuest is a family show and we intend for our shows to be for the family and people of all ages."

Lasting about 55 minutes and rated G, "The Jungle Book" is a children's story with a valuable lesson.

"The original has a lot about jungle lore and what makes us human and what make us family," Hammond said.

She said she hopes the play will encourage children and their parents to pick up a copy of the book.

"There is value in going to original source, because too often we take value in the animation or Disney version," she said. "But with the original, it will have a whole other tone. We need to keep bringing society back to books, and live theater is the best way to do it."

Family performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29-30 and Oct. 6-7 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 1. School matinees will be 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Sept. 28-29 and Oct. 4-6. All shows will be in Pearce Auditorium on the Brenau campus at 500 Washington St. SE in Gainesville.

Theater patrons will have a chance to meet the cast and crew a few times before and during the production's run. A free behind-the-scene stage tour will be at 6 p.m. Sept. 19 at the theater. A free meet-the-actors reception will follow the Sept. 29 performance. A free ice cream social with the cast will be after the Oct. 1 show.

Children may also participate in a "Marvelous Monkey Jungle Party" at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 6 or 7. The pre-production event is for children ages 6 to 12. The party will feature a game of monkey tag and snacks. Tickets are $5.

Tickets for the family shows are $12-$15 for adults and seniors and $8-$10 for students and children. Tickets for the school matinees are mostly sold out.

For more information on ticket prices and seating, visit GTA's website.

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