As part of our weekly "In the Jungle" blog series, we're chatting with Nikka Graff Lanzarone of The Jungle Book cast. Get to know what life is like as an ensemble member of this world premiere production.
Are you a fan of the film version of The Jungle Book? Did you have a favorite character or song? A childhood memory of the movie?
All this time, I thought I had been! I owned every Disney VHS rerelease. My mom, after I told her I'd booked this show, went looking for the movie. When she couldn't find it, she realized that we had never owned it—just the Disney picture book! I did, however, love that book to the point that I thought I had watched the movie over and over and over, which is a great testament to my mother's voice acting abilities!
What about this role most terrifies you? What most delights you?
The same thing both terrifies and delights me—the fact that we are the first people creating these characters onstage. It’s a big responsibility, to be trusted with such long-beloved characters in a long-beloved story. I just want to do justice to the source material and Mary’s incredible vision while creating something amazing for audiences to enjoy.
What should audiences expect when they come see The Jungle Book?
Rich, layered, beautiful work. This cast is gorgeous, full of life and joy, and with the design elements—yowza!
What is it like working with director and adaptor Mary Zimmerman?
It's great fun. Her process is unlike any other director’s, and it’s so freeing to feel like the room is a collective and we’re all in it together. She's really interested in what the individuals bring to the whole of the piece as an ensemble, and it makes everything a unique experience.
Why did you want to be a part of The Jungle Book? Tell us about your characters.
First, any opportunity to work with choreographer Chris Gattelli (and Lou Castro) again is one I’d jump through hoops of fire for—and the fact that this was the creative team he was a part of? Give me a break!
Also, the opportunity to be a part of a show from the very beginning is something that everyone I know jumps at—it’s a very special thing to know that your work is going into this bigger whole. When you replace someone in a show, there's often that feeling of being a part in a machine- when you create new work, you’re making the machine. You’re figuring out how it runs as a group and making it beautiful and efficient. It’s fun to think that some of the things you did on the fly will end up in the show—and that someone else might have to do them after you!
So far, I play a peacock, Winnifred the elephant, a dancing monkey, and part of a giant snake. Each character is totally different, with different physical vocabulary, dance styles, and text work. Everything is still being put together, so we'll have to check back later!
What’s been your favorite part of the process so far?
Getting to know this truly lovely group of people.
What’s your favorite part about working at the Goodman and/or in Chicago?
I’ve never spent time in Chicago before, and it’s amazing here! I'm a major food person, so getting to immerse myself in that scene is wonderful—and a a whole new theater scene, too!
What’s your favorite professional role/production you were in?
Velma Kelly in Chicago on Broadway. My ultimate dream come true.
What’s your favorite Richard M. Sherman song and why?
A mean thing to have to answer, but I'll go with my gut—“Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” The incredible thing about the Sherman brothers is that they created music that we’re now born knowing, music that seems to have always been there, and that the world can't remember existing without. What an incredible legacy and gift. They literally changed the world. How cool is that?