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For anyone familiar with children’s literature, Roald Dahl is a household name. Since the 1960s, Dahl has entertained and enchanted his young readers with fantastical tales of witches, giants, talking animals, magical chocolate factories, and yes, even a giant peach.

So, it is more than appropriate that the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire has added to its children’s theatre repertoire for the 2023-2024 season a lively and imaginative adaptation of Dahl’s classic James and the Giant Peach. During the 70-minute run time – perfectly suited for the younger audience – the gifted and energetic ensemble bring to life the magical adventures of James Henry Trotter and his intrepid insect friends – Earthworm, Green Grasshopper, Centipede, Spider, and Ladybug.

In this adaptation of the musical, which premiered in 2010, with a score composed by the Tony Award-nominated team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (La La Land, Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman) and book by award-winning playwright Timothy Allen McDonald (who also adapted Dahl’s most well-known work, Willy Wonka), the charm and quirky characters of Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach are introduced once again to a new generation of fans.

The audience is guided through James’ adventure under the skillful musical narration of Ladahlord, a mysterious magical man, capably played by Chicago theatre veteran, Alex Goodrich. As he informs the audience, magic is going to unfold “Right Before Your Eyes” in the opening number. And then it does, as spiders, earthworms, grasshoppers, ladybugs, centipedes, charging rhinos, ravenous sharks, and comical seagulls all come brilliantly to life through the creative combination of puppets and actors and innovations of costume and wig designers Amanda Vander Byl and Ray Sanchez and gifted props master Leo Bassow.

For those unfamiliar with the story, James becomes an orphan after his parents are eaten by a rhino (see above!) who has escaped the London Zoo. He falls into the hands of his wicked aunts, Aunts Sponge and Spiker. After being given a magical potion of crocodile tongues by Ladahlord, James trips and scatters the potion before he can use its power. What does result, however, is a gigantic peach!

While the aunts try to make money off charging people to see the giant peach, James enters the peach itself, finding himself in the company of human-sized insects. After the peach drops from the tree and rolls into the ocean, James and his companions use their wits and abilities to battle sharks and other obstacles to voyage across the ocean. Eventually the peach lands on the Empire State Building. When it drops to the ground, it crushes the two wicked aunts who have followed the peach across the ocean, and James and his newfound family are home at last.

From the beginning, the audience is captivated by the music, puppets, and the talented cast. James is wonderfully played by 12-year-old Kai Edgar, who made his acting debut at age 8 in the title role of Oliver at the Marriott Theatre. Edgar brings an energy and poise to his performance that is well beyond his age. His amazing performance alone is reason enough to see the show.

He is joined onstage by an equally experienced and gifted ensemble. The dour and doubting Centipede is brilliantly played by Garrett Lutz, who has appeared on numerous Chicago stages, including numerous Marriott productions. Andrés Enriquez also returns to the Marriott stage and delights as the near-sighted and fearful Earthworm. Enriquez shines in his number “Plump and Juicy,” one of the show’s more memorable tunes, as he breaks from his reserve and fears to help save his companions.

The ensemble is rounded out by veteran actor Christopher Kale Jones, who plays the wise and steady Green Grasshopper and undeniable leader of the group, with an understated elegance and humor. He is joined by Elizabeth Telford, as the kind and motherly Ladybug, who brings a sweetness and tenderness to her role. Juwon Tyrel Perry, who most recently appeared in Marriott Theatre in its Carole King tribute musical, Beautiful, who plays Spider, with a hip and stylish vibe.

And of course, no Roald Dahl story is complete without its villains, which are wonderfully played by Lucy Godinez and Leah Morrow, as the delightfully wicked aunts, Sponge and Spiker, respectively. The pair’s oversized personalities and outlandish antics are crowd favorites, but that doesn’t stop the audience from cheering when their evil designs are finally crushed after the peach drops on them.

Under the direction of Tommy Rapley, who also choreographs the performance, Dahl’s classic tale entertains and captivates the audience with its fast-paced action, nonstop comedy, and innovative set. Marriott’s signature theatre is the perfect venue and James and the Giant Peach is the perfect production to introduce your children and grandchildren to the wonderful world of theatre.