In the Jungle: Alka Nayyar

In the Jungle: Alka Nayyar

Posted by: at 06/26/2013 10:42 AM

Throughout the run of The Jungle Book, we’ll be getting to know the cast through a series of interviews with the people that make up this crazy talented ensemble. Check back weekly for new posts, and if you haven’t already, buy your tickets to The Jungle Book now, before it’s sold out! 


AlkaAre 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?

Huge fan of the film! It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I never can seem to get enough of King Louie—and  Kaa. My sister and I spent countless hours with our dad singing their signature songs, imitating the expressions and dancing around the house. I associate the film with my dad’s love of jazz (big band) music. I also always loved Shere Khan’s unmatched condescension. The film’s characters had so little relation to those in Kipling’s stories—they were just Jazzing it up in the jungle—and yet it worked so brilliantly. A multi-generational classic.


Why did you want to be a part of The Jungle Book? Tell us about your characters.

It was time to stop acting like an animal and actually play one. I love that The Jungle Book is set in pre-Bollywood India. Mowgli is the original Slumdog!

In all seriousness, I appreciate the opportunity to perform multiple dance types, sing and act in a timeless, universal story. Also, as someone with an Indian dance background, it is not often that I would be able to practice my art on a mainstream stage. A tremendous amount of research and effort has been put into this show—I’m thrilled to be able to add what I can.


What about this role most terrifies you? What most delights you? 

This is my first show on this scale so the whole thing is a little terrifying on some level I suppose. Right now, working with this incredibly talented group is so satisfying and awesome. I’m also reveling in the fact that the show is comprehensively embracing many different forms of music, dance and storytelling styles—and we seem to be moving seamlessly from one to the other. It’s been amazing so far.


What is it like working with director Mary Zimmerman?

Mary has created a couple of new characters, and I am super excited to be working on them. She has a rich vision for the broader story and at the same time a sharp focus on every moment, each scene, each song and poem. She makes me think about how what we’re doing (no matter how big or small) adds to the narrative, emotion, dynamic, color, the aesthetic. Her process is perhaps unconventional, but I’m really enjoying it.


 What’s been your favorite part of the process so far?

The music and the choreography! Musical director Doug Peck and his team are interweaving an Indian sound and feel with the Disney film’s great swing/jazz style. It’s simply addictive. While Christopher [Gattelli] is working magic with the movement and dance—it’s all unfolding beautifully. It is such a treat to watch this unbelievable cast bring one of my all-time favorite musical films to life on stage.

And, we get to legitimately be monkeys.


Favorite part about working at the Goodman and/or in Chicago?

I’m a native Chicagoan, and the Goodman has always been a part of the city’s artistic pulse and history. The Goodman has been home to some of the biggest, boldest and best shows and artists. I’m proud to be working here for the first time—the crew on this show and the Goodman staff have all been so helpful, encouraging and professional.


Favorite professional role/production you were in?

The Masrayana by William Kovacsik, Prop Thtr and Rasaka Theatre Co. Choreographer, dancer, ensemble.


Favorite Richard Sherman song and why?

So difficult to pick—King Louie’s swingy, hilariously ironic “I Wanna Be Like You,” or the entrancing “Trust In Me,” or the haunting “My Own Home?” No, I can’t choose. Love ‘em all!


What should audiences expect when they come see The Jungle Book

Something they’ve never experienced before. Even with the familiarity of beloved characters, for anyone (like me) who grew up loving the playful and popular Disney songs, the production will be nostalgic, yet also promises to bring additional cultural elements that are representative of where little Mowgli's adventures take place. This journey weaves together the rich traditions of East Indian music and Western jazz, combining musicians, dancers and actors—an approach that is grounded in authenticity but fresh in its execution.

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