BWW Review: JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH at DreamWrights Center For Community Arts
British author Roald Dahl is well known for his dark humor, quirky characters, and unexpected twists and turns. Among his most popular works are Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. In 1961 he wrote James and the Giant Peach. James and the Giant Peach was adapted for television, film, and the stage. Among the stage versions is the dramatization by Richard R. George, which can be enjoyed at DreamWrights Center for Community Arts.
The whole production was charming. The costumes, designed by Rebecca Eastman, were wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the colorful centipede costume with the many legs, the spider costume, and the shark fins and mouths. And for those who saw the many posts about the giant peach set over the last week, in real life it really does look like a peach and not so much like a part of the female anatomy. The peach pit door looks amazingly like a real gigantic peach pit.
The staging for the show is quite well done. The actors do a great job at painting the scene with their expressions, movements, and voices. For instance, when James gets the idea to use the seagulls to pull the peach out of the water, the audience doesn't actually see the seagulls-they aren't part of the set-but the actors react to them so convincingly that it's as though they are actually there.
I had the opportunity to see Company D, and they were so much fun to watch. Shannon Buhrman and Elise Baer are perfect as Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker. Their initial rhyming exchange is well performed, and they are delightfully over the top. Narrator 1 and Narrator 2, performed by Whitney Richardson and Nittany Goebeler, tie the whole story together. If the narrators aren't on top of things, the whole production can fall apart. Richardson and Goebeler are fantastic. Their energy, expressions, and projection keep the audience engaged.
Many of the cast members perform multiple roles. Jonah McDonald really shines as the little old man who gives James the bag of magic that creates the giant peach. His energy and the voice he uses for that role help to differentiate that character from the other characters he takes on during the show. Megan McCabe and Emily Baer join Jonah in a great scene featuring the crew of a ship. When Megan McCabe, playing the captain, spies the flying peach and describes it to Jonah McDonald and Emily Baer, their reactions are priceless. It might be one of the funniest scenes in the show. One of the more dramatic scenes highlights the cloudmen played by Megan McCabe, Emily Baer, Lydia Miller, Kylie Tauzin, and Kellan Smith. They are appropriately mysterious and scary as they begin to pelt the flying peach and its passengers with hailstones. Rounding out the ensemble are Claire McNally, Grace Baer, Julia Miller, and Caitlin Damon who, among other things, portray the sharks (along with Lydia Miller). The sharks have great timing as they swim down the aisle and around the peach. As they begin to circle the peach, the audience can really feel the desperation of the characters who are being threatened.
The characters that inhabit the peach include a ladybug, grasshopper, silkworm, glow worm, centipede, spider, and earthworm. These roles are played by Beth Spahr, Rob Gill, Grace Stover, Hannah Kuhn, Eddie Baer, Grace Gill, and Lilly McNally, respectively. These actors seem to really embody their animal. Beth Spahr as the ladybug is cheerful and practical. Rob Gill as the Old Green Grasshopper is a calming presence. Grace Stover is adorable as the sleepy but helpful silkworm. Hannah Kuhn's glow worm gives hope and light to the animals as they find themselves in unusual situations. Eddie Baer's centipede has a personality as brightly colored as his costume, taking pride in his many feet and status as a pest. Grace Gill's spider is one of the leaders of the group, reminding all of us that spiders are helpful creatures. One of my favorite characters is the earthworm. Lilly McNally is perfect as the earthworm with just the right amount of sarcasm and pessimism.
Morgan Burkhardt plays James Trotter, the title character and only human riding on the giant peach. From the moment Morgan enters the peach and describes what she sees and feels, the energy of the show really ramps up, and every time James tells a story or comes up with an idea, everyone listens because Morgan's delivery, expression, and movement while telling these stories and coming up with these ideas is engaging.
Overall James and the Giant Peach at DreamWrights is a delightful show. It is a wonderful example of the work that DreamWrights does with actors of all ages who want to learn about theatre. This production is great for audiences of all ages. Tickets can be purchased at www.dreamwrights.org.