For Craig Francis and Rick Miller, the creative team behind the multi-media stage spectacle that was last year’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and that returned for this year’s The Jungle Book, currently onstage at Asolo Repertory Theatre, the audience is never guaranteed. The theater world must be increasingly cognizant of the amount and availability of content available on the small screen at home and, especially for the young, give them a real reason to leave Netflix behind and hit the playhouse. For Francis and Miller, this means fully embracing the stage for all it is—cheap tricks and all—but pushing them to new heights all the same. “Our artistic world needs to keep evolving,” says Miller, and Francis agrees: “We’re creating something that can only be watched in the theater.”

MOWGLI (ACTOR LEVIN VALAYIL) STARES DOWN THE FEARSOME SHERE KHAN (MIRIAM FERNANDES). T

Just as they took audiences through the ocean depths alongside Captain Nemo without bringing a drop of water to the stage, so will the pair transport audiences to the jungles of India, where the story of Mowgli, Baloo, Bagheera and Shere Khan unfolds, without a single leaf touching the stage. “We are really trying to convey the sense of scale, the sounds, almost the smells of the jungle,” says Miller, “but just through theatrical means.” This means digging through the theater’s bag of tricks and pulling out all the stops. Sets imply more than they are, hinting at unseen and uncharted territory. Shadowplay and video projections augment the efforts of a bare-bones cast, creating an epic scale as the sparse cast of four seamlessly adopts one character after another, embodying at once a wolf, then a monkey, then a bear, then a tiger or a snake or even a blustering bully of a man. It’s a masterclass in physicality, and a timely reminder of one of the true delights of the stage. And under the guiding hands of Francis and Miller, the madness comes together to create something far more than the sum of its parts.

“In a way, we’re lying,” admits Miller. “But the wonderful thing about theater is you’re asking the audience to jump into it and to buy that untruth, so they can experience something heightened and walk out feeling different."

THE CAST FLANKS CREATORS CRAIG FRANCES AND RICK MILLER. PHOTOGRAPHY BY GARY SWEETMAN.