Kids go bananas in 'Jungle Book'

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By Natalie Harris

Six-year-old Caleb Griffin is just so special. He says that's why the Community Playhouse of Lancaster County cast him as Mowgli in "Disney's The Jungle Book Kids."

"Mama says I'm just so special," he said. "I'm specialer."

Griffin is one of 60 children cast for the production, which opens Friday.

The play's director, Eric Grace, originally intended to cast 40 kids, but when 100 auditioned, he added 20 more spots. That's twice the size of any cast he's ever directed. The children make up a large chorus, monkeys, bees, dancers, elephants, vultures and more. Five girls manage Kaa, the boa constrictor.

Play leads include Drew Dutton as the bear Baloo and Hailey Nicholson as the panther Bagheera.

Dutton describes himself as the "personal jungle gym" for the rest of the cast. At 15, he's even taller than Grace and portrays Baloo's lovable spunk well. He has acted in school plays before, but Dutton's favorite part of this production is Griffin.

"I think it's amazing at such a young age he's so good at what he does," Dutton said of Griffin.

Nicholson is an Indian Land native who's no stranger to the Lancaster Playhouse stage. She played Alice in "Alice in Wonderland" and Arachnia in "Sleeping Beauty and the Zs."

Like Dutton, Nicholson, 12, is older than most of the children, who average about 9 years old, but she enjoys the rest of the cast. The hard part of this production is the acting.

"I learned it's harder to be a panther than a person," she said. "Now I have to think like a panther."

Grace is also from Indian Land. He has directed at least four plays, and this is his second children's play. Although he enjoys working with the kids, Grace says his favorite part is the artistic side of the production.

"I'm a costume designer in Charlotte," he said. "That's my job, so I love making wild and creative costumes, but it's hard with a $500 budget."

The costumes may be limited, but if 60 children can't create a jungle effect, nothing can.

Grace thinks audiences will find the production engaging because of its Disney appeal.

"All the music is very recognizable," Grace said. "Plus, it's a well-known story, besides the fact that there are 60 kids in it."

"Disney's The Jungle Book Kids" will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and July 25 and 26, and at 3 p.m. Sunday at Covenant Baptist Church, 165 Craig Manor Road.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors, and $10 for children under 12.

Tickets are available at the door or in advance at Silver and Spice Gifts, 408 N. White St..

For details, visit www.lancasterplayhouse.com.