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A Whimsical, Wonderful Winter Treat

Poor little James Henry Trotter. One day he suddenly becomes an orphan after his parents are unexpectedly devoured by a rhinoceros that escaped from the London Zoo. His only living relatives are the mean and mercenary Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, who reluctantly take James in, but treat him as their slave. They  physically and emotionally abuse the sweet little boy from dawn till dusk, until one special day. A strange, but friendly Magician happens by the garden. He gives James a book of spells and helps him mix up a potion. Unfortunately the little boy spills it onto a nearby peach tree. But this accident will propel James into a myriad of wonderful adventures.

Like Jack’s beanstalk, a peach grows to an enormous size. When James climbs up into the fuzzy fruit he finds that it’s the home of a clan of critters, who’ve also grown in size. Included in this unusual family are Grasshopper, Ladybug, Spider, Centipede, Earthworm and Glowworm (who provides the illumination inside the Peach). While the atrocious aunties make a fortune off tourists willing to pay to see the Giant Peach, James and his new friends liberate the enormous fruit from its branch. It tumbles down the hill, rolling over his two repulsive Aunts, and heads out to sea. The story then takes James and his new friends on an adventure from the southern coast of England, across the ocean, up into the sky and finally ending up in New York City. Along the way, a family of friends is forged, unbelievable adventures are enjoyed and many life lessons are learned.

In 1961 British author Roald Dahl burst onto the literary scene with this unconventional children’s novel that would set the standard for all future juvenile fantasy literature. Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach would also foreshadow the author’s later books, such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The BFG, The Witches and Matilda. While these novels were intended for children they soon became equally adored by adults, as well. With an orphan boy as the protagonist of this story, James and the Giant Peach is filled with bizarre characters, inventive language and the kinds of quirky adventures that most kids enjoy.

Roald Dahl’s weird and wonderful story was adapted into an hour-long musical by Timothy Allen McDonald (“Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas”), with a bouncy musical score by the Tony Award-winning team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (“Dear Evan Hansen”). It captures most of Dahl’s unpredictably amusing novel, condensing the book into a perfect, child-size portion. The production is colorful, creative and highly captivating, while remaining challenging to both its actors and technical team.

Creatively and dynamically directed and choreographed by the imaginative Tommy Rapley, this enchanting musical may be the most entertaining TYA show that the Marriott Theatre has produced in a long time. Tapping into the extraordinary talents of visionary scenic designer Milo Bue (who adapted Marriott’s set for “In the Heights” into a brand new environment for this show), gifted props master Leo Bassow, innovative costume and wig designers Amanda Vander Byl and Ray Sanchez, dazzling lighting designer Ben Carne and gifted sound designer Michael Daly, this production is a carnival of multi-sensory delights. Notice all the trunks and suitcases lying around the edge of the arena stage, whose surprise contents are revealed as the story unfolds. And kudos to the imaginative manner in which the giant peach appears and grows in size, along with how the audience’s perspective changes through the use of puppet characters.

Kai Edgar, who played the title role in Marriott’s marvelous production of “Oliver,” is the star of this production. This 12-year-old triple-threat is a phenomenally talented young actor. Kai is sweetly innocent as James with a smile that would melt the hardest heart. James’ life changes for the better when he makes unusual friends inside the giant peach. Throughout the musical, Master Edgar displays his considerable acting chops, while competently strutting his song and dance skills, as well. Kai Edgar, a professional young actor who’s been seen in productions from coast to coast, is one of the main reasons to see this fantastic production. He is wonderful!

But equally gifted are Leah Morrow and Lucy Godinez. They are terrific as the villainous, nasty, no good Aunt Spiker and Aunt Sponge. Unlike in the novel, the two awful Aunties don’t die when the Giant Peach runs them down at the beginning of the play. Their evil atrocities continue throughout the rest of the story. And the always wonderful Alex Goodrich is simply delightful in much of the musical as Ladahlord, serving as the Emcee, the Magician and a variety of other Willy Wonka-like characters.

The lovable critters who inhabit the Peach are all dearly memorable and deftly portrayed. Garret Lutz creates a definitely disgruntled, distrustful Centipede. As Green Grasshopper, Christopher Kale Jones, whose fine voice leads the ensemble numbers, is kindly, agile and filled with great good humor. His amiable arthropod is the undisputed leader among James’ invertebrate buddies. Elizabeth Telford makes a welcome return to the Marriott stage as Ladybug. She portrays a particularly gentle, caring and maternal friend to James. Juwon Tyrel Perry is stunning, sinewy and stylish as Spider, and Andres Enriquezas is fantastic, funny and a bit fussy as the slightly surly Earthworm.

The entire production is inventively acted and produced, filled with humor and adventure, and sure to hold the interest of theatergoers of all ages. Whether or not the audience is familiar with Roald Dahl’s delightful novel, this production will captivate with its unexpected creativity and unique comedy. Tommy Rapley’s beautifully directed and choreographed production of this enchanting tale is a whimsical, wonderful winter treat that will win over audiences of all ages.

Highly Recommended