Curtains: The Jungle Book at Mesa's Broadway Palm Dinner (Lunch) Theatre

Anita Welch is the front end of Kaa, and Kerry Lambert is Mowgli, in Disney's The Jungle Book KIDS
Anita Welch is the front end of Kaa, and Kerry Lambert is Mowgli, in Disney's The Jungle Book KIDS

I get it when theaters want to make sure we know that something like Rent or Les Mis has been cleaned up and squooshed down for young performers and young audiences, but I don't think anyone had to stick the word "KIDS" on the title of a stage musical based on Disney's 78-minute animated version of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book for us to know that it's suitable for, you know, kids.

Nevertheless, here it is, and it actually is shorter and dumber than the cartoon. But I'm not a kid, so it doesn't matter quite as much what I think. It'd be great if whatever 4-year-olds enjoy could be fun for the whole family, but that's too much to ask of every single theatergoing experience, as far as I can tell.

Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre presents children's theater in their main venue at weekday lunch matinees (the dates are a bit irregular, so check that out when you make your plans). The ticket prices are lower ($16 for all ages), but the actors and artistic staff are professionals, and the sets, costumes, and lighting are pretty swell. And there's still an endless buffet of wholesome, well-prepared food -- it's just got pudding, mini-corn dogs, pizza, and chicken fingers in place of pork tenderloin and Key lime pie. (Grownups may also enjoy the fancy salad selections.)

This is actually a somewhat ritzy yet affordable way to spend some time with the kids in your life this summer. A lot of young 'uns I know can go through way more than $16 worth of restaurant food and not get full, and hey, you get a musical, too! I had a tween in tow, and she liked the show a lot.

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The cast is made up mostly of people who have to come back at night and be in Disney's High School Musical, so I am impressed with their enormous smiles and stamina. Jordan and Ashley (yes, those are their real names) are especially super-cute as they zip on and off stage dressed as monkeys, elephants, vultures, and whatever else the action calls for.

Mary Atkinson's fuzzy, colorful costumes evoke the familiar characters, and the score is what you'd expect, with those alluring Sherman brothers songs like "I Wanna Be Like You" and "Trust in Me," and Terry Gilkyson's memorable "The Bare Necessities."

It did seem a little weird to me that every musical number was a straightforward vanilla interpretation, but I'm spoiled by the star turns of the great musicians and voice actors from the original -- Louis Prima, Sterling Holloway, Phil Harris, Thurl Ravenscroft -- as well as the astonishing Hal Wilner-produced album of Disney covers, Stay Awake, with Los Lobos rocking out on "I Wanna Be Like You." So, again, this is more my problem than the show's.

Disney's The Jungle Book KIDS continues through Friday, July 31, at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre, 5247 East Brown Road in Mesa. Tickets are $16 and include a lunch buffet. Order here or call 490-325-6700.


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