BWW Review: JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH is Sweet at Omaha Community Playhouse

BWW Review: JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH is Sweet at Omaha Community Playhouse

JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH has all the ingredients to make up a memorable musical: an enchanted adventure with a magical peach; fantastic music by Pasek and Paul; beautiful sets, lighting and costumes; and a message of friendship and family told with humor and wit. Now showing at the Omaha Community Playhouse, this is a show that will enthrall kids of all ages.

"James and the Giant Peach" was written by Roald Dahl in 1961. It was one of his first increasingly fantasmagorical books. Dahl was highly criticized for his dark humor, often portraying adults as villains and precocious children as the heroes. This is quite likely attributed to his childhood reputation for hijinks such as putting a dead mouse in a storekeeper's candy jar which earned him a caning from the school principal. Dahl said "Children are ... highly critical. And they lose interest so quickly. You have to keep things ticking along. And if you think a child is getting bored, you must think up something that jolts it back. Something that tickles. You have to know what children like." Dahl knew what children like. Before his death in 1990, he published a string of crazily imaginative, award winning books which were also turned into film and stage productions. These include "Matilda," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," and more recently, "BFG."

In JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH, adapted for stage by Timothy Allen McDonald, James Trotter is a young boy whose parents are killed by a stampeding rhino. He is taken into an orphanage and later given over to his pair of odd scooter-riding spinster aunts, Spiker and Sponge. The aunts take pleasure in their cruelty, and require James to work for his keep. When he is tasked with chopping down a barren peach tree, James meets Ladahlord, the narrator of the story. Ladahlord gives him a bag of crocodile tongues. When he shakes it up and spills it on the ground, creepy crawlies that Spiker and Sponge are determined to wipe out (or eat) become life-size. A peach appears on the once barren tree and continues to grow to the size of a house. James and his new insect friends escape in the peach and find themselves afloat. Adventures ensue. Friendships are formed.

Kimberly Faith Hickman, Artistic Director of the Omaha Community Playhouse, directs this dynamic cast of young and not so young. Sixth-grader Maddie Smith returns to the OCP as James. Her power-packed voice belies her age. Her fresh faced charm wins over the audience along with her insect friends. She only fails to charm her colorful aunts who are determined to keep James as their property and the peach as their investment potential. "We are the only family you've got!" they cry, but James finds family doesn't always mean blood relations. Jodi Vaccaro as Spiker and Sara Mattix as her ravenous sister Sponge are zany fun! Aaron Mann as Ladahlord keeps the momentum up with an impressive vocal belt.

BWW Review: JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH is Sweet at Omaha Community Playhouse

James' creepy crawly gang consists of Steve Krambeck (Centipede), Zhomontee Watson (Earthworm), Samantha Quintana Zarders (Spider), Sarah Ebke (Ladybug), and Kyle Avery (Grasshopper). This quintet soars vocally. Individually and as a group, they sound amazing! They sort out their prejudices and fears with comic actions and fantastical maneuvers. Centipede serves as the pessimist of the group, not sure he can trust a human. Spider spins up a ladder and a lifeline. Squeemish Earthworm agrees to be seagull bait against his & her better judgment. Grasshopper keeps the peace with sweet violin music as Ladybug adds a touch of ladylike refinement (and her bloomers as a flag.)

BWW Review: JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH is Sweet at Omaha Community Playhouse

The orchestra, led by Chris Ebke, is one of the best I've heard. Choreographer, Nichol Mason Lazenby, expertly enhances the music.

Once again, set and lighting make a tremendous impact. Ahna Packard, scenic designer, and Chris Wood, lighting designer, combine their talents to create a magical world. The set varies from a sinister Tim Burton-looking cottage in the background to calming origami ocean waves. The lighting is especially beautiful, changing from primary colors to subtle grays and whites to black, all accented with a bright orange peach. Props master Darin Kuehler and puppet designer Aaron Reichert bring out fanciful wheels of sharks, seagulls on sticks, and an impressive assortment of insect puppets with jittery moving parts.

Costumer designer Amanda Fehler has created some inventive costumes, especially for the bugs. Spider's substantial rear end, the pads on the front of Grasshopper's legs, and the thickly padded suit on Earthworm highlight those insects' particular assets.

JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH is destined to be a giant hit for families with children and for anyone who enjoys a flight of imagination. It is visually delicious. It is literally music to your ears. And it is another rock solid production for the OCP.

Photo Credit: Robertson Photography

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