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James and the “Giant Peach” at Marriott Lincolnshire

Marriott Lincolnshire’s Theater for Young Audiences is a marvelous vehicle to introduce both youngsters and the young at heart to the engaging power of a live performance. My adult friends and I thoroughly enjoy the charming staging of magical, marvelous children’s literature. The latest endeavor is James and the Giant Peach Roald Dahl’s dark, controversial book. I have always loved fairy tales, despite their dark side. In this off-beat adaptation of Roald Dahl’s work, I was curious to see how Marriott’s Young Audience Theatre would handle the violent deaths of James’ parents and his aunts without unduly traumatizing children. Their adaptation of Dahl’s work is a joyful and delicious adventure with puppets and actors playing giant insects. Everyone of every age will enjoy this Roald Dahl romp. The complete cast is stellar with amazing, accomplished performances.

I believe Tommy Rapley’s direction and choreography, along with musical direction by Ryan T. Nelson, keep this musical lighthearted, highly energetic, and joyful. The Tony Award-nominated team of Pasek and Paul, along with their tuneful, Broadway-style score (La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman) and a curiously quirky book by Timothy Allen McDonald (Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka, Jim Henson’s Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas) keeps us thoroughly entertained.

“I am thrilled to be bringing James and the Giant Peach to Marriott Lincolnshire families,” said director Tommy Rapley. “This whimsical musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic contains the perfect blend of playful, spooky, heartwarming, mysterious, imaginative, and downright hilarious storytelling that I love as a director. The themes of forgiveness, the importance of family, and the boundless love between parent and child are particularly moving and vitally important to share with young audiences. At the heart of our story, James is the ideal character to welcome young people into adventure, as he leads young audiences on a journey that blends grief, hope, love, and joy.”

For this production, we brought along a four-year-old Princess Angel. This was her first live musical. She had previously seen Disney on Ice. She shared with us that she was worried she would be scared before the performance began. One baby screamed in the dark, telling us this was a distinct possibility. Once the lights came on though, Sophia was immediately captivated.

Aunt Sponge (Lucy Godinez) and her sister Aunt Spiker (Leah Morrow) introduce the story premise and rules for us by creating an engaging rapport with the audience through quick quips and clever, biting commentary. The mean aunts were so much fun. James, the show’s star (Kai Edgar), has a sweet singing voice and charming manner.  He was our young person’s favorite character. While we, the adults, were captivated by Alex Goodrich as Ladahlord. His commanding stage presence, singing, and dancing were enthralling. The centipede (Garret Lutz) plays his pest part perfectly. The ladybug (Elizabeth Telford) is an accomplished supporting actor who wore my favorite costume. As the Green Grasshopper, (Christopher Kale Jones) convincingly serenaded us with his faux fiddle. Earthworm (Andrés Enriquezas) deftly plays the reluctant hero during the ocean adventure. The Spider (Juwon Tyrel Perry) successfully spins the silken webs to catch the seagulls who transport James and his adopted insect family across the pond to New York and a better life with his adopted insect family.

JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH plays most Wednesdays through Sundays at 10:00 am with select 12:30 pm performances and plenty of Spring Break performances. Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre is located at 10 Marriott Drive with ample free parking. An ASL-interpreted performance will take place on March 16 at 10:00 am. Visit Marriott or call 847.634.0200 for the exact schedule, as show times and dates vary. Tickets are $15.75 (plus tax and handling fees). Call for substantial group discounts on over 20 tickets. Free parking is available at all performances. To reserve tickets, please call The Marriott Theatre Box Office.

A question-and-answer session with the cast will follow each performance. The actors repeat young people’s questions while introducing them by first name. The questions I heard asked were very astute. The cast explains their roles and thanks the various behind-the-scenes production support staff, who are fabulous. The Marriott Theatre for Young Audiences team is led by Associate Artistic Director Katie Johannigman and Interim Artistic Associate Annie Yokom, with richly creative Costume Design by Amanda Vander Byl, superior Lighting Design by Ben Carne, Scenic Design by Milo Bue, Wig Design by Ray Sanchez, Props Design by Leo Bassow, and Sound Design by Michael Daly. The creative team also includes Assistant Director & Choreographer Emily Ann Brooks, Dialect Coach Sammi Grant, and Stage Manager Marcus Carroll. I loved most of the props and Sammi Grant’s nod to Roald Dahl’s British roots through the cast employing British accents...