If it’s been a while since you’ve seen it, you could take another look at the Disney movie, a wittier-than-you-might-remember musical tour de force, and the most direct source for this new show, which was written and directed by Mary Zimmerman. If you do, savor it: word came out this week that Disney’s hired a scriptwriter for (cringe) an upcoming live-action version of the film.
You could also settle in for a bit with Rudyard Kipling, whose wonderfully anthropomorphic beasts were Disney’s inspiration. If you’re taking youngsters to the play, gather them round, tap into your latent acting chops, and open the original Jungle Book to “Mowgli’s Brothers”—it was meant to be read aloud.
But here’s the best one, not necessarily for the kids: check out the 2009 documentary, The Boys, available at the public library or online. It’s about Robert B. and Richard M. Sherman, the gifted brothers who wrote nearly all the music in The Jungle Book and most of the other Disney songs you’ve been humming all your life. Their career as Walt Disney’s hand-picked resident songwriters included 50 films, a thousand songs (yes, you can blame them for “It’s a Small World”), a couple of Academy Awards, and a relationship as tortured as it was fertile. As Robert Sherman puts it in the documentary, they maintained a phony public facade for years, managing to look at least civil though they could barely keep from lunging at each other’s throats while cranking out the feel-good likes of “A Spoonful of Sugar.” This fascinating film, a window into a unique creative partnership, was made by their sons, Gregory and Jeffrey Sherman. Robert died in 2012; Richard has been in Chicago as part of Zimmerman’s creative team.