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Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Cherish Caldwell, left, as Bagheera, Zak Kirkpatrick as Mowgli and Ashley Leavitt as Baloo in BYU production of "The Jungle Book."

PROVO — Children who are trying to deal with a bully at school can learn some things from watching Shere Kahn.

The bad-tempered, scary tiger in Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" really wants to fit in but just doesn't know how, says her portrayer in the play.

Judy Simmons says her version of the legendary top tiger not only is female but has feelings.

"I personally think Shere Kahn wants to be a part of the group but doesn't know how to go about it, so she resorts to some really bad tactics," Simmons said.

"In general, she really wants to be a part of things."

The show's director, Allison Belnap, said the whole story works to help kids understand bullies and how to deal with them.

Shere Kahn is usually played by a male actor but is easily played by a woman as well, said Simmons. "I think it adds a 'Mean Girls' element."

"We are looking through the lens of social survival," said Belnap.

Belnap said there have been some challenges blending an inherently Indian story with an actor pool of mostly white, young actors, but the set designers, costumer and choreographer have risen to the challenges.

"Our costumer, Mary Haddock, has combined the authentic Indian dress with elements of contemporary school fashion plus pieces of the animals," said Belnap. "For instance, Baloo has these huge black bear pants, while others have Indian fabrics, saris, head pieces, chains with little dolls and even big black tennis shoes."

Most of the actors are freshmen and sophomores with lots of energy to bring to the characters, she said.

Belnap said: "Our challenge is to learn how to starve the emptiness of revenge and feed the hunger for forgiveness. Starve the emptiness of pride and feed the hunger for humility. Starve the emptiness of covering our sins and feed the hunger for repentance.

"Shere Kahn continually feeds the emptiness and starves the true hunger. And in the end, she loses everything and gains nothing."

The nine cast members include Zakary Kirkpatrick as Mowgli, Cherish Caldwell as Bagheera, Simmons as Shere Khan, Josh Mora as the monkey or Bandar king, Camilla Whitney as Kaa, Ashley Leavitt as Baloo, Sarah Sanchez as Raksha, Jennifer Thomas as a Bandar and Danica Donaldson as the Bandar mother, Messua.

"There's always a challenge when you're trying to be an animal when you're a human," said Simmons.

Kirkpatrick agrees, especially when one is trying to portray a human child raised by wolves without any human influence.

"It's a great play. Besides having a fun plot line, the message is wonderful," said Kirkpatrick. "Mowgli struggles with being different and being bullied. He's the only one in the jungle with twigs instead of paws."

In the end, the message that everyone is unique and "that's a beautiful thing" comes through clearly, Kirkpatrick said.

If you go . . .

What: "The Jungle Book"

Where: Nelke Theater, Harris Fine Arts Center, BYU campus, Provo

When: 7:30 p.m., Feb. 8-16 (dress rehearsals Feb. 6, 7; 2 p.m. matinees Feb. 9, 16)

Cost: $10/$6 weeknights/$7 students, children/$5 dress rehearsals

Phone: 422-4322

Web: performances.byu.edu

E-mail: [email protected]