Drake Wakefield (Baloo the Bear) and Maritza Perez (Bagheera the panther) rehearse the Bear Necessities during the Disney Musicals in Schools production of The Jungle Book. Photo by Teri Nehrenz

Over 40 Mesquite and Bunkerville “Disney” youth are busy preparing for their big debut on the Las Vegas Smith Center for Performing Arts stage with their upcoming performance of Disney Kids ‘The Jungle Book.’

Bowler Elementary school was accepted into the three-year Disney Musicals in School program this year. The goal is to establish a sustainable musical theatre program in under-resourced public schools. 

The cast of Disney’s The Jungle Book and have been rehearsing hard learning songs and dance moves for the Disney Musicals in Schools Program sponsored by Disney and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Director, Arica Cook, stepped in to read the part of young Mogli, played by Jake Hafen, who was absent that day. Photo by Teri Nehrenz.

So far the program seems to have caught the attention of the up and coming stars of the show. Drake Wakefield who plays the part of Baloo and Kurt Felix who plays the tiger Shere Khan are developing characters that are fun to watch and by the looks of these two guys, fun to play as well.

Maritza Perez is the most watchful and practical of the cast playing the part of Bagheera the panther and takes that lead with aplomb. Perez is a force to reckon with and young Mosely played by Jake Hafen is getting the general idea that his watchful friend isn’t playing around when it comes to getting him around the stage both in character and out. 

Kaa the snake is an impressive 18 ft. long jungle character created by Choreographer and Teaching Artist Susan Schultz and husband Mike for the Disney Musicals in Schools Jungle Book Production. The production is currently in the rehearsal stages at Bowler Elementary School in Bunkerville.

There’s a group of monkeys led by King Louie, played by Rigo Quintero, whose monkey business will have you belly laughing and possibly falling out of your seats; better bring a seat belt to the show. If the monkeys don’t have you rolling on the floor the mighty herd of elephants led by Colonel Hathi, played by Chase Ellison, might just have the floor bouncing beneath your chairs. Oohs and Aws are sure to follow closely behind the elephant’s grand entrance when you lay eyes on the cutest baby elephant you’ve ever seen played by Kendall Reid. 

Kaa, the giant jungle snake is played by 6 students with Keaton Wolf taking the head. The rest of the coils that follow are Shaylee Sudweeks, Luz Salazar, Matthew Duran, Elexa Ellison and Kitzia Perez who have to work extremely well together to get the very impressive Kaa to move around the jungle as one. 

Kaa is an 18 foot long snake with a head that’s no doubt bigger than a breadbox. Kaa is certainly an impressive fellow and homemade by Susan and Mike Shultz. Susan Schultz is the Disney Teaching Artist Choreographer for the show and, along with teachers Becky Teschner and Castina Woolsey, have developed some fancy foot work for the actors.

Lynette Leavitt, music teacher and director, has been working to include the songs into some of her general curriculum so the kids can practice them a bit more outside of rehearsals and it’s working well. The cast has managed to memorize all the music with very little trouble. 

Kurt Felix plays Shere Kahn the fierce tiger who wants the man cub removed from the Jungle. Photo by Teri Nehrenz

Of course under fifth grade teacher and show director Arica Cook the cast can’t help but be ready to rock the house on Student Share Day; the day they take the stage at the Smith Center in Las Vegas. Cook is a natural director, organizer and she knows her students to a tee. Disney Teaching Artist Director, Teri Nehrenz has not had to guide her much; Cook has taken the lead like she’s been in theatre all her life. 

Cook hasn’t had to go it alone though either. There are a group of teachers who are always standing by to lend a hand and do whatever is needed for the kids to succeed. The art teacher and an entire crew of young artists have been busy during each rehearsal time for the cast creating the scenery that will fill the jungle with a colorful and lively design fit for Disney.

None of this could have been possible for this group of young performers if it hadn’t been for the show’s producer and Bowler Elementary School Principal Christopher Jenkins. Jenkins has an extensive theatre background and has not only initiated entry into the program but supports the teaching staff and students in every way. He even added additional amplification to the gymnasium specifically for this and future productions so the parents will be sure to hear every adorable song and word their child utters; and they are adorable.  

The cast of Jungle Book will have a school and parent performance before their debut at the Smith Center which will be open to students and family members only due to seating restrictions but the teachers aren’t ready to let the kids work this hard for just a few shows. They’re all busy working on scheduling a community production so that all of Mesquite can meet these upcoming stars of the stage.