JUST SO Has Animal Magnetism

JUST SO Has Animal Magnetism

By Peter Filichia on December 28, 2018

Sure, young girls love playing Annie.

Yes, pre-pubescent boys have basked in the applause they’ve received after they’ve sung “Gary, Indiana” in The Music Man.

Nevertheless, there are roles that tweens enjoy performing even more.


Young ‘uns really relish the chance to throw themselves into the animal kingdom. There they can make caterwauling noises and jump around to their hartebeest’s content. For once, the primitive behavior that their parents have tried so hard to eradicate can be deemed appropriate.

And so, JUST SO – adapted from those marvelous Rudyard Kipling stories -- is just the show for kids who want to act out while acting.

Even those unfamiliar with Kipling’s 1902 stories will relish the musical created by George Drewe and Anthony Stiles (who wrote the terrific new songs for Mary Poppins).

Your kids will play a crab, crocodile, giraffe, jaguar, kangaroo, leopard, rhino and zebra. Also required are a few wallabies, wildebeests and elephants and – oh, yes – a dog. Not a regular dog, mind you, but a dingo dog, which can be mostly found in the middle of Australia.

(See how educational musical theater can be?)

To unite the stories, Drew and Stiles created a character called The Eldest Magician who is, frankly, God. As much as most kids love portraying animals, you know you have at least one girl or boy on hand who’d love to play God.

Your set could look like The Wrath of God, because JUST SO takes place in an attic. Haul out everything that’s been collecting dust backstage or in the wings. A visit to a junkyard may not be on your Chamber of Commerce’s list of things a tourist should do in your town, but it may well solve a scenic problem or two.

On his first try, The Eldest Magician makes all the animals look alike – only to then challenge them to go out and be all that they could be.

The animals agree: “Just so we all know who’s who. Just so we can diversify.”

(Nice message, no?)

Initially dress the kids in leotards or identical street clothes. Then have them run off and quickly return in their specific animal garb.

Can’t you hear the applause now?

If there’s a God, there must be a Devil, and in this case, it’s Pau Amma the Crab. (Surely you have a kid in your company who’s a Crab. Now you can make the best possible use of him or her.)

Pau Amma causes the sea to rise higher than an elephant’s eye. The pachyderms accept this fate, but not Elephant’s Child (who may be played by a boy or a girl). Child states “There’s no harm in asking why everything should be just so.”

Child is the type of kid who asks incessant questions, which makes his elders feel old before their time. Says one, “It’s little wonder that elephants are grey.”

And just as Alice met plenty colorful creatures in Wonderland, Elephant’s Child will encounter many in his or her travels. The Kolokolo Bird has a theory on how Pau Amma can be defeated – but Elephant’s Child must help, too. The message that two heads can be better than just one is always worth a reminder.

En route Kolokolo and Child meet Parsee Man, a recluse who has lost so much zest for life that he (or she) has stopped cooking, which had been a specialty. Cooking Stove comes to life and expresses irritation at this inactivity. As Avenue Q stresses, we all need to have a purpose.

Bigger problems arrive via Rhino whom the authors describe as “a classic school bully.” Criticizing the beast won’t do any good for, as Rhino sings, “I’ve got thick skin.” She (or he) exits while knocking over Stove accidentally-on-purpose.

Kolokolo and Child get Stove back on track by convincing him (or her) to help make a cake for Pau Amma because “It’s impolite to visit without a present.” Thus we get another good message that you can catch more crabs with cakes than you can with carbine rifles.

Making a cake is a natural for a song. Drew and Stiles could have chosen anything from a fox trot to a waltz, but they knew that the most logical song genre for making a cake would be a cakewalk.

Doesn’t JUST SO sound like fun? There are plenty more pleasures to be had here. Produce it, direct it and be a latter-day Doctor Dolittle who can talk to the animals.


You may e-mail Peter at pfilichia@aol.com. Check out his weekly column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and Tuesday at www.masterworksbroadway.com. He can be heard most weeks of the year on www.broadwayradio.com.