Review: James and the Giant Peach
Roald Dahl, known for his vivid and wildly adventurous children's books, from the adventures of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to the Fantastic Mr. Fox, and of course, James & the Giant Peach, once said, "The writer for children must be a jokey sort of fellow... he must be unconventional and inventive." and indeed, he was!
This year, Coterie Theatre brings to the stage one of Dahl's most beloved stories in James & the Giant Peach (showing Apr. 10 - May 18), a story that, as Ladybug states,
The story begins in London, where the poor, unfortunate James (played by Ryan Emmons and Marshall Hopkins in alternating performances) is left orphaned after a series of unfortunate incidents in which his parents were accidentally eaten by a rhinocerous, a scene created with screens and silhouette puppets. James, as his pop-up book narration charmingly tells us, is then left with his two curmudgeonly aunts, who in proper children's literature fashion, mistreat the boy horribly. Now, about those aunts... if ever it appeared that an actor popped straight off the pages of a children's book onto the stage, this was indeed the case in Coterie's adaptation of the two aunts, portrayed by Matt Weiss, as the rotund and bouncy Aunt Sponge, and Ron Megee as the tall and "pointy" (in the words of my 4-year-old, but a perfect description at that) Aunt Spiker. Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker are donned in outrageous grayscale costumes that serve, as all costumes in this production do, as props and story pieces. Children laugh hysterically as Aunt Sponge wobbles and bobbles and bounces up to the stage and Aunt Spiker smiles a wicked grin as they turn poor James into a mistreated servant.
James longs for a life outside, a life of adventure, and it is his fortune to eventually meet a Mysterious Man (Walter Coppage), who introduces him to "marvelous things" (better known as magic boiled crocodile tongues in the book) which magically and magnificently produce a giant peach in his garden.
The Aunts, ever greedy, see the peach as an opportunity to profit - truly, the World's Largest Peach is a spectacle to be seen. One day, however, after cleaning up from the crowds visiting the peach, James discovers an opening and begins to explore... it is there that he enters the world of the peach and meets his insect friends: Old Green Grasshopper (Walter Coppage), Ladybug (Enjoli Gavin), Spider (Molly Denninghoff), Centipede (Matt Weiss), and Earthworm (Ron Megee). This is when the magic truly begins.
In this production, Coterie outdid themselves with costuming and props. Lauren Roark designed costumes that were both whimsical and elaborate. Throughout the story, as the friends travel in a peach, on a peach in the ocean, on a peach in the air, and New York City each scene depicts the peach in creative fashion for a scale appropriate for the adventure. The story shows each character playing a vital role in working together to rescue the entire band.
My daughters fell in love with the glamorous spider and her magical web spinning (quite the cous as it is truly unusual for girls to find themselves so captivated by spiders). The Centipede, a natural comedian, brought many laughs with his array of boots. And poor hyperphobic Earthworm saved the day with his courage (reminiscent of the Cowardly Lion in Oz) as he was used for seagull bait.
Coterie coordinated fantastic stage settings & props to use an interweaving of the simple, through techniques like silhouette puppetry, and animated screens, to elaborate peach pit houses and beautiful painted backdrops. And, much to this mom's delight, and the delight of my girls, the cast interacted with the audience repeatedly throughout the tale engaging the kids further, the most fun being the rescue of the peach in the end, depicted at that point as a giant beach ball / peach the children bobbed over their heads.
In James & the Giant Peach Coterie did what they do best... using the stage and all its assets, from fantastic costuming and props to a multi-talented and extraordinarily comedic cast, to vividly tell a beloved and classic tale in a way that simply made us love the original more.
You can buy tickets to James & the Giant Peach online, or call 816.474.6552, the show runs through May 18 . TIP: On Saturdays take advantage of Target's deal with One Free Ticket and copy of a Roald Dahl book per order!
Bonus: On May 5 you may meet the cast at U.S. Toy! Join the cast of the Coterie's James and the Giant Peach at US Toy (2008 West 103rd Terrace Leawood, KS. 913.642.8247)
* James and his insect friends will perform select scenes from the popular production.
* Photos and autographs with the cast
* Mini class with cast members
* Arts and Crafts of James and the Giant Peach
* Chance to win tickets to a performance of James and the Giant Peach at the Coterie Theatre (performing through May 18).
More information about the performance at www.coterietheatre.org