by Lynn on December 9, 2014

in The Passionate Playgoer

At Young People’s Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Words and Music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
Book by Timothy Allen McDonald
Based on the book James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Directed by Sue Miner
Musical Director, Jason Jestadt
Choreographed by Jen Shuber
Set by Yannik Larivée
Costume and Puppet Designer, Robin Fisher
Lighting by Jason Hand
Sound by Michael Laird
Starring: Lana Carillo
Alessandro Costantini
Saccha Dennis
Jacob MacInnis
Dale Miller
Steweart Adam McKensy
Nicole Robert
Karen Wood

A sweet, sometimes dark rendering of Roald Dahl’s classic that is perceptive and fitting for today’s world.

The Story. James is in an orphanage because he lost his parents in a freak accident in the zoo when a rhinoceros attacked them. A cold, no-nonsense woman comes to tell him that in fact he has two aunts, Spiker and Sponge, with whom he will now live. They are coerced into taking him, first because they are living relatives and second because they will be paid a stipend for James’s care. The two aunts are care-less, vulgar, selfish horrors who spend their time duping the public.

Now they spend their time mistreating James; they put him to work; and don’t send him to school. He has no friends. His aunts tell him to chop off some branches of a tree in their yard. James becomes so engrossed with the insects and animals around him that he forgets. The aunts scold him.

He’s given magic seeds by a mysterious man. The seeds get scattered in the yard by accident. These seeds cause a peach to grow in the tangled branches of the tree. The peach grows so big that it becomes a huge news story. A Hollywood film crew comes calling. They give a huge advance cheque to the aunts for the rights to the peach for films. Not knowing about the true nature of advances, the sisters spend all the money. The peach grows so big that it falls off the tree and rolls down the street to the sea. James runs after it. His friends the insects and an earthworm go with him. They climb into the peach and sail away from those dreaded sisters. Or do they?

The sisters follow him by the coast guard. His new friends: a ladybug, a grasshopper, a spider, a centipede and an earthworm are with him. For food and drink they have the peach to keep them well and safe. The aunts take drastic measures to gain control of the peach. James and his friends prevail. They find their way back home and for the first time, James does have a family who care for him—his insect friends.

The Production. Yannik Larivée has designed a beautiful set of pastels and neon. The main space is in the outline of a peach, with bits and pieces that suggest the inside of the fruit. Costume designer, Robin Fisher does magic in creating the vibrant costumes of the red ladybug. the spider with tentacles, the centipede with countless protruding ‘legs’, the pudgy green earthworm. All of these creatures and various flying insects are imaginative and magical in their own way.

As James, Alessandro Costantini has that trusting spirit of a kid who is not ground down by the sadness in his life or the cruelty of his aunts. Costantini is sprightly, impish, winning and sweet. He has a strong singing voice and you root for him every step of the way. As the mean aunts, Spiker and Sponge, tall Nicole Robert as Spiker and shorter Karen Wood as Sponge bring all their gleeful meanness to their roles, relishing how they will get rich, and caring less about James and his welfare.

Jen Shuber’s choreography adds a buoyancy to the world of James and his insect friends. Roald Dahl is no stranger to writing dark children’s books. He paints a world where adults are the villains in many cases and the kids are the heroes. Certainly his book of James and the Giant Peach is a case in point. Timothy Allen McDonald’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book takes the darkness further and also reflects our world as well. James and his friends talk about what loving families do. In the case of the Earthworm who is both a hermaphrodite (dual-gendered), the Earthworm says that a loving family loves you whether you are a boy or a girl or whatever. It’s a wonderful message. The words and music of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul also add to that sentiment. Of course James realizes who his real family is by the end of the adventure.

Comment. Young People’s Theatre continues to provide engaging, thought-provoking theatre for its young audiences. The plays reflect their world, no matter if it is a fantasy involving a giant peach. It’s a world that is not sugar coated; presents challenges and obstacles to its young characters; shows their grit and ingenuity to overcome these challenges; and reveals their solid character and their compassion for each other. James and the Giant Peach is a terrific show for both children and adults.

Young People’s Theatre presents:

Opened: Nov. 27, 2014
Closes: Jan 4, 2015
Cast: 8: 4 men, 4 women.
Running Time: 85 minutes.

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