From the creative mind of Roald Dahl who created such masterpieces as “Matilda,” “The Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and lots more, comes this adaptation of “James and the Giant Peach.” This Adventure Theatre MTC musical production mixes full blown imagination with Broadway-style savvy flair assuring a terrific time for all.
Master storyteller Dahl has a well-honed sense of the human experience and spares no punches for anyone, especially his humble protagonist, a sweet orphan James, played in rotation by Eli Schulman and Henry Niepoetter. The sudden discovery of living relatives brings no relief to the poor fellow as they instead wreak havoc in his life. Delightfully played by Karen Vincent and Awa Sal Secka, the two despicable aunts work James to shreds while harnessing him up like a trained monkey. Guided by a mysterious Merlin type conjurer, nicely rendered by renowned stage actor Keith Richards, James devises a potion that creates the humongous peach and escapes to a life filled with opportunity and adventure.
With mega-doses of fantastical whimsy, the peach is massive enough for everyone to comfortably live in while sailing across the ocean, drawn by sea gulls tethered by spiderwebs. Yes, Adventure Theatre makes it all happen—right before our eyes, a refrain in one of the many memorable Pasek and Paul songs.
True to the beloved tale, insects that make most people squirm and recoil with disgust befriend the destitute lad, even becoming a strange sort of “family.” Director Michael Baron brings out the “humanity” in the critters and Adventure designers make them loveable characters with feelings and individual expressions.
Talented dancer Jimmy Mavrikes is a treat to watch as Grasshopper, Emily Zickler as “Lady Bug” has the regal poise of royalty, even when she’s offering her bloomers to serve on the masthead, Suzanne Lane is the daintily attired spider with netting accenting a bouncy dress hem, Joshua Simon plays the scowling cranky centipede who has to be convinced that humans can really care about such lowly creatures, and Tobias Young as the nearly blind earthworm adds a spirited joviality to the motley crew.
Baron knows how to pluck humor and fun from the smallest gesture such as when introducing the unscrupulous Aunts pick-pocketing oblivious strollers. I thought I had seen it all, but what Baron can do with gentle ease and slight of a hand is noteworthy.
Cleverly designed costumes by Jeffrey Meek steal the show, especially the conjurer’s robe, grasshopper’s dapper three piece suit and lady bug’s regal red and white shell-shaped dress accented with black circles, complete with the most adorable pantaloons tied at the ankles. The attention to detail is amazing, pictures don’t do them all justice—the hats alone are worth a trip to see. Also when a nurse character ushers James to his new surroundings, she wears the full white regalia top to bottom, complete with red cross insignia for just a walk on moment. There’s even color-coordination when the Aunts travel on a steamboat where the color of their tropical drinks match their attire…See? Priceless!
JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH
February 14 – April 5
Adventure Theatre MTC
Glen Echo Park
7300 MacArthur Blvd.
Glen Echo, MD 20812
1 hour, 20 minutes, no intermission
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As in his other creations, Dahl seems to be working through issues of being an outsider, living by one’s own wits, outsmarting with kindness those who want to do one harm, and generally making the best of what one’s been given. That happens here with no sugar-coating whatsoever. When James is at his lowest point, there’s no rich Daddy Warbucks with deep pockets at the rescue. The sweet voiced youngster endures the abuse and is reminded of his parents with the hanky worthy song—”They Are With You Where You Are.” Through it all, James trudges along with an open and accepting heart and perspective, on his own deciding Not to be friendless or alone.
Patrons of all ages can learn so much from family productions. In this case, sailing to a new land in a giant peach filled with insect friends actually shows that being happy is as much about choosing to be regardless of life’s circumstances and conditions. Presented with care, fun music and flair by Adventure Theatre MTC, the message comes alive and settles in our hearts–it doesn’t get much more real than that.
James and the Giant Peach . Book by Timothy Allen McDonald . Based on the Book by Roald Dahl . Words and Music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul . Directed by Michael Baron . Cast: Eli Shulman, Henry Neipoetter, Keith Richards, Karen Vincent, Awa Sak Secka, Suzanne Stanley, Jimmy Mavrikes, Joshua Simon, Emily Zickler, Tobias Young . Music Director: Aaron Michael Broderic . Choreographer: Rachel Leigh Dolan . Scenic Designer: Katie Sulliva . Costume Designer: Jeffrey Meek . Properties & Puppets Designer: Andrea “Dre” Moore . Lighting Design: Rob Siler . Sound Design: Matt Otto. Stage Manager: Ellison Roberts . Assistant Stage Manager: April E. Carter . Produced by Adventure Theatre MTC and Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma . Reviewed by Debbie Jackson.