(r-l) Malik Conard Sow, Aliza Kennerly, Stephen Michael Rondel, and Cristiano Magni in The Jungle Book
(r-l) Malik Conard Sow, Aliza Kennerly, Stephen Michael
Rondel, and Cristiano Magni in The Jungle Book
Who says that animals in children's theater have to wear fake fur imitations of Barney costumes, or that the sets should have drab, painted-on trees in soft tones of green? It's springtime, and it's a jungle out there. That means the streets of New York are teeming with nitty-gritty children's theater for your little ones. We at TheaterMania have eliminated all of the fluff, and we're focusing only on the most sophisticated events this April -- including the works of Kipling, Shakespeare, Bernstein, Gilbert & Sullivan, and theater from around the world.

Director David A. Miller helms a production of The Jungle Book -- a new adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's classic story -- which challenges the common wisdom about theater for young audiences. "Our set designer, Gregg Bellon, actually went upstate to get 400-pound logs," says Miller. "There are no curtains, just an open space full of trees and vines and rocks. He went to great lengths to create this jungle environment." As for the wardrobes, "[They] have great textures and colors that suggest the animals."

Presented by The New Acting Company, the resident troupe of The Children's Aid Society, this new version of the children's favorite has been shortened to less than 90 minutes by resident playwright Monica Flory. The story, of course, follows a boy named Mowgli who is raised by wolves that learns that it's his destiny to protect his community from a ferocious tiger. This version focuses on Mowgli's two alter egos -- one from the village and one from the jungle -- who discover that they are different sides of the same person, and it addresses issues of identity and belonging. Parents can take their children to see this production at The Greenwich Village Center, located at 219 Sullivan Street, from April 1 to 24.

Leonard Bernstein's racy musical On the Town might not be the most natural choice for a children's theater transfer. After all, it follows the adventures of three World War II sailors on leave in Manhattan for one day, and they're not just there for the tourism. Well, the not-for-profit children's theater organization Inside Broadway has trimmed the score to 50 minutes and has made the material safe for family consumption. Kids can learn about the Bridge and the Battery in the famous song "New York, New York" without too much additional information about the birds and the bees. This abridged tuner opens at the Lucille Lortel Theatre on April 9 for a month-long run.

For those who want to support a worthy cause, the Lortel is also the venue for the Our Time Third Annual Benefit Gala on April 11 to support young people who stutter.

On the same day, Vital Theatre Company debuts a new musical version of As You Like It. Like the play on which it's based, the adaptation follows the beautiful Rosalind, who is driven from her uncle's court and forced to disguise herself as a boy in the mythical forest of Arden. Mistaken identities ensue when she encounters and falls in love with a boy named Orlando in the woods. This musicalization of one of Shakespeare's most beloved comedies, running until May 15, follows up last year's Vital Theatre Co. tuner based on The Tempest.

The Off-Broadway children's theater powerhouse, New Victory, churns out two shows this month: Luna/Penguin and Happy Prince. The first, playing from April 8 to 24, combines the Slovakian folk tale Luna of the Tree with the Japanese poem "My Heart is a Penguin"; this production by a Belgian company named Pantalone is not a straightforward portrayal of either tale, but a multimedia fantasia inspired by both. The latter play, playing from April 29 to May 8, is based on Oscar Wilde's fable about a tearful statue that tries to bring joy back to his kingdom.

The Little Orchestra Society introduces your children to the masters of the American operetta in a concert titled Gilbert and Sullivan: Partners in Rhyme, performing only on April 9 at 11am and 1pm. Part of their ongoing series, "Happy Concerts for Young People," the concert features Maestro Anagnost leading the musicians through selections from Mikado, H.M.S. Pinafore, Gondoliers, and Pirates of Penzance.