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BWW Review: 'Fantasmaterrific' ROALD DAHL'S JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH Opens 29th First Stage Season

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Photo Credit: Paul Ruffolo

What does somenone do when his or her world is turned upside down and there's no where to go? James Henry, the litlte boy in author Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach discovers this dilemma after a terrible accident places him along in an orphanage. That is, until his two aunts Spiker and Sponge, his only living family, take him into their home, which he hopes will be the family he longs for. So begins First Stage's 29th season with the Theater for Young Audiences premiere of the new musical sharing the identical name: Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach.

First Stage presents a 'miraculous fantasmaterrific" production under the innovative direction of Matt Daniels. This miraculous adventure story that began as a collaboration between Timothy Allen McDonald, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul stems from a peach. With a little traditional stage magic used in amazing ways, the peach grows by shadow puppetry and opaque projectors so images float across a giant screen placed center stage, courtesy of Scenic Designer Kristin Ellhert and Lighting Designer Jason Fassl. Brandon Kirkham's, and consequently Dahl's, tiny insects also begin as small puppets handled by the actors who play the five insects in the production, (spider, earthworm, lady bug, grasshopper and centipede, while the glow worm remains unseen) and then grow to human size after nibbling on crocodile tongue.

A marvelous cast sings and dances their way through James's great adventure beginning with the Ladahlord, a narrator who often switiches hats and cameo roles througout the performance, Andrew Varela. He introduces the story that will unfold "right before your eyes," and then James Henry appears. Being fortunate to see both Young Performer Plump and Juicy casts, each James, whether Luke Brotherhood (Plump) or Nolan Van Haren (Juicy), are equally wonderful in playing this James who needs to be afraid, yet conjure a hero instead of a victim, and each of their excellent voices ring true alongside the adult cast.

When Spiker and Sponge arrive on the scene as Amber Nicole Dilger and Jenny Wanasek respectivley, dressed in Melissa Torchia's equally "absolutely fabulous' costumes, they steal lthe scene riding onto set sitting in the most imaginative bicycle, worth the price of admission alone to see.. And while the two aunts are appropirately mean and decieitful to James, they also have admirable human qualities when they sing of being fast freinds and sisters in "I Got You." These two rock the show with tunes featuring sisterly chemistry that amps up the British humor.

When the human insects enter the performance, each has a solo to showcase their singular talents, an equal brood of bugs to welcome James into the peach, and become his peculiar family. Rick Pendzich the resident cynic in the quintet playing the Centipede, while Beth Mulkerron defines the dignified lady in Lady Bug, perfectly, wtih a voice to match. Earthworm Lamar Jefferson shines in the song "Plump and Juicy" with salss moves and the daper Grasshopper Doug Clemons, calms every situation along with his admiration for Ladybug. The spider is a First Stage Young Performer, and again, both Madeline McNichols (Plump Cast) and Lydia Stevenson (Juicy Cast), find Spider's tender affection for James A winning troupe bringing the house to spontaneous applause in several numbers when complemented by Edwin Olvera's enchanting choreograhy.

This surreal "fantasmaterrific" journey Dahl writes and First Stage breathes life and song into on stage will be the peaches and cream remedy for anyone who has suffered a loss, or an unexpected upheaval in his or her life, young or old. When Mulkerron utters the first words to the song, "Everywhere That You Are," the audience will fondly recall a person missing from their life, by any loss, remains with them, forever in their heart or continually seen "in the face of the moon."

A poignant story without sentimentality and plenty of gritty truth touched with theatrical magic, James and the Giant Peach captures the shadows and little glimmers of lifght in ordinary humanity.. Appreciating once if not twice, this tiny bit of a miracle produciton will inspire audiences to discover where they belong, to welcome others outside their family into their own homes. To remember that when someone is 'brave and true' in the spirit of James Henry, there will "be someone's arms waiting for you, to keep your back, a perfect place, when you've finally found your way home."

First Stage presents Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach at the Todd Wehr Theater in the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts through November 13. Plump Cast featured in article picture. For intormation on special events, performance schedule or tickets for this production, or the upcoming season, please call: 414.270.7206 or 888.612.3500 or visit www.firststage.org.


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