EMMY Award Winning Choreographer Hema Rajagopalan Reflects on Mary Zimmerman’s Production of The Jungle Book at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre

Jun 10, 2013

Making the Jungle Dance and Sing

This summer, Chicago audiences are in for a treat when the Indian jungle springs to life in a music- and dance- filled spectacle at Goodman Theatre. June 21 – August 4, the Goodman will present its world premiere musical adaptation of The Jungle Book, the work of some of the best-known music, theater, and dance talents of our time.

Tony Award winner Mary Zimmerman will be directing and adapting the story into a music-filled spectacle featuring the Disney movie’s best-loved songs like “The Bare Necessities”, as well as some new additions. Mary and her designers traveled to India to observe and research both current and historic forms of decorative art, dress and music to create this unique production.

Music director Doug Peck collaborated on the original score with Richard M. Sherman, one of the composers of the beloved 1967 Disney film of the same title. Choreography is by Tony Award Winner Christopher Gattelli. He has been working with Natya Dance Theatre artistic director Hema Rajagopalan, who is serving as Indian dance consultant on the production. As founder and artistic director of Natya Dance Theatre in Chicago, which will celebrate its 40th year in 2014, Hema has been nationally recognized in the US by seven choreographic awards from the National Endowment for the Arts and also is a recipient of the coveted EMMY Award. She was the first choreographer working in an Indian tradition to be selected among leading Chicago choreographers by the Chicago Dancemakers Forum to create new work.

The story of The Jungle Book unfolds in the jungles of India. Committed to bringing authentic Indian dance into the production, Mary Zimmerman and the Goodman invited Hema to be part of the creative team. “I was honored to be asked,” Hema says. “It was wonderful that they wanted Indian dance to be part of the choreography.”

Hema says she knew from the beginning that this production was going to be something special. “It was clear from our first meeting,” she says, “that this was an extraordinary collaborative effort and that this was going to be a great opportunity to bring Indian dance to a new, young audience in the context of a favorite story.”

Getting The Jungle Book to the stage has been a journey of more than 100 years. First there was the 1893 short story collection by Rudyard Kipling. Then, in 1967, the Disney film.

Now it’s time for a new incarnation.

With its anthropomorphic cast of singing, dancing jungle animals, The Jungle Book chronicles young Mowgli’s adventures growing up in the animal kingdom. The Jungle Book features original Indian-inspired music and dance. Zimmerman draws from the stark contrast between Kipling’s happier early childhood in India and his fraught later years in England to establish the emotional tenor of the production, which will balance the jubilant songs from the Disney film with the universal themes of the loss of childhood innocence. “I want the audience to experience the joy of that music and of living in a world where you are one with nature and the animals—even with all its dangers and its troubles. And also the recognition that you can’t stay there.”

Natya is no stranger to collaboration. In 2006, the company collaborated with Lookingglass Theatre Company and the Chicago Children’s Choir on Sita Ram, an original rock opera adaptation of the Indian epic, Ramayana. The production played to sold-out houses and was remounted at the Harris Theater in 2012 on a considerably larger scale. The 2012 production was also a great success and bolstered Hema’s confidence in the power of collaborations to bring Indian dance to today’s diverse audiences. Natya has also worked collaboratively with Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble, as well as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The Jungle Book performs at Goodman Theatre starting June 21. For tickets or more information visit

A Special Offer for Natya Dance Theatre
Get $10 off select mezzanine tickets to The Jungle Book at Goodman Theatre

The Jungle Book
Book and direction by Mary Zimmerman

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