Westerville South High School's thespians are inviting the community to exchange winter's cold for a warmer climate as they stage "The Jungle Book Experience."

The show will be presented at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 and at 2 p.m. Feb. 1 and 2 at the school, 303 S. Otterbein Ave.

Audience members will tour the jungle and meet the characters before the play begins, said Matt Wolfe, the show's director.

He said audiences will get a backstage view of how theater works and what it takes to put on a show.

"Once the audience joins their 'tribe' for the day, they are taken in the auditorium for a 50-minute production," he said. "This show is accessible and appropriate for all age groups and is sure to entertain children of all ages."

He said the show was chosen because of the familiar title and potential to create an inclusive theatrical experience. Briandaniel Oglesby, an award-winning playwright, created this script based off of Rudyard Kipling's literary work, Wolfe said.

"Although the beloved characters Baloo, Bagheera, Kaa, Shere Khan, Mowgli and the rest are present in this story, it is not Disney's 'Jungle Book,' " he said.

Wolfe said the retelling of the classic novel tells the story of the man cub, Mowgli (played by sophomore Latif Sulaimon), as he searches for the place where he belongs.

Along the way, he discovers that family is not simply who bore you, but rather those that love you.

With the help of narrators Baloo (sophomore Curtis Wyglendowski) and Bagheera (sophomore Mahad Yusuf), Mowgli navigates the often confusing world of growing up.

When Raksha the wolf (junior Myah Miller) takes Mowgli in, the wise and powerful leader Akela (senior Latifat Suliamon) is skeptical of his success in the pack.

Along the way, Mowgli finds trouble with Kaa (senior Isabel Brinker), Shere Khan (sophomore Toby Lehman), and the Monkey tribe (led by sophomores Matthew P. Shaffer and Bella Price) and must use his jungle instincts to survive.

"As a commentary on modern society, Mowgli stumbles into a man's village where modern day society has taken over and he quickly learns that those that look like us don't always relate to us," Wolfe said.

Sophomore Lillian Malone, co-assistant director, said she hopes to contribute to the show by putting emphasis on the important morals in the story that are often over looked.

"These include lessons on family, belonging and knowing that it is OK to be different," she said.

Shaffer, who plays King Louie, the king of the monkeys, said the show is for the children of the community.

"It's a show they will find funny and will enjoy, and it doesn't alienate older people from enjoying it, too," he said.

Will Pyle, a sophomore who plays Duke, one of the few humans in the production, said the variety of characters and voices in the show create a magical, fantasy-like environment.

"It is more than just a silly kid's show," he said. "It has emotion, and it deals with identity problems that I think we can all relate to."

Sophomore Anna Cochrane, who plays the leader of the young wolves, said that behind the funny, light-hearted show is the message of kindness, not only to those who are different from us but also to the environment.

"This show displays the harm that humans have done to the environment in a way that is apparent to children, without being too overwhelming," she said. "They watch Mowgli connect the animal kingdom with the human world and I think that's a really valuable lesson that kids should be learning young."

Wolfe said the student choreographer, junior Cherie Stone, uses instrumental music to introduce characters and establish mood with the five-person ensemble that features monkeys, wolves, snakes and people. The 19-person cast, five-person directing team and 25-person technical crew are excited to bring this work to the community, Wolfe said.

He said the fast-paced, action-packed story is a universal tale.

General admission tickets cost $10 and can be purchased online at tinyurl.com/wx3husx.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla