Orem – As a child I fell in love with the stories of Roald Dahl, and as an adult nothing has changed. They are imaginative, sometimes a little twisted, and unlike any other children’s books. Because of this, I was excited to have the opportunity to review James and the Giant Peach, directed by Julie Bonifay, at the Scera theatre.
James and the Giant Peach, with words and music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul and book by Timothy Allen McDonald, is a production for young audiences, which tells the story of the orphan, James Trotter, who is sent to live with his two horrid aunts, Spiker and Sponge. One night James meets a mysterious stranger who gives him a magical potion called crocodile tongues. Before James has a chance to use the potion it spills. It causes the peach tree to produce a giant peach and it also enlarges some insects. Together James and the insects end up on a marvelous adventure.
The performers for this production were wonderfully high energy without being overly cheesy. I particularly loved Aunt Spiker, played by Allison Books, and Aunt Sponge, played by Hannah Christensen. Their chemistry as sisters was perfect, especially in the “I Got You” number. My favorite number of the entire production was “Property of Spiker and Sponge.” Books and Christensen nailed their characters! They were despicable and nasty, and yet maintained the humor. I also loved when they were riding their motorcycle and sidecar. The motorcycle and sidecar were only a two dimensional, painted cutout but the way Books and Christensen interacted with it made is easy to imagine the real thing.
James was played by Sofia Spackman. Spackman was the only youth performer in the cast and she did a marvelous job at keeping up with the more experienced performers. She has a good voice, and didn’t appear to be nervous singing on stage. I did lose some of her lyrics, which could be corrected with more articulation, but her notes were confident. Amazing sets, props, lighting, puppets, and characters helped to create a well-rounded production. Although the production is only an hour long, and is for young audiences, the Scera production team didn’t scrimp on their creativity and abilities.
The costumes for this production, designed by Deborah Bowman, were marvelous! They really added to the characters. Each of the insect characters were dressed like people, but their costumes were reminiscent of the bugs they were representing. Grasshopper (played by Shawn Mortensen) was dressed in a green tailcoat with scaly cuffs, a tall top hat, and plaid trousers. Ladybug (Emily Bennet) was in an a red, sparkly A-line skirt with large black polka-dots. Spider, played by Mckelle Shaw, had a black pencil skirt dress with a metallic bustle, spiderwebbed tights, and a small, feathered and netted hat. Earthworm (Cole McClure) was dressed in fleshy pink overalls with horizontal strips. It was easy to identify which insect each character was, without making the costumes overly buggy. I also loved the costumes for Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge. Aunt Sponge’s costume was clown-like but still dark and disgusting like she was.
The set, designed by Cole McClure, made wonderful use of layers. Each set piece was two dimensional and contour lined, without much shading. Very cartoon-like, but very well done, which helped to remind that although the performers were mainly adults, this show is for a young audience. The placement of each piece created a layering that pulled me into the world of James. I particularly loved the set for the inside of the peach. The excellence of the set was matched by the excellence of the props and puppets. Props, designed by Christy Norton, correlated nicely with set. I loved that when the peach is being flown through the air by gulls that the set had pieces come in to create the visual, but also a large peach with gulls on wires was being held by the narrator Ladahlord (played by Tanner Perelle). It created a visual connection to what was happening in the story and what the narrator was talking about. These visual connections were also created using puppets, designed by Nat Reed. Puppets were used to create insects in the earlier parts of the stories, and to create a rhino that reappears throughout the show. I loved the puppetry touch, and my only suggestion would be to paint the handles of the puppets black, as the white handles were a bit distracting from the beautiful insect puppets.
This production is enchanting for all ages. I laughed and enjoyed myself immensely. My young daughter attended with me and her attention was captured by what she saw and heard. She normally becomes a bit restless during productions, but this short show held her attention quite well. Even though she is too little to understand most of the story, the energy on stage had her watching, dancing in her seat, and peering around the head of the person in front of her. I highly recommend this production to those with children and those who love Roald Dahl stories.