— Production photo
JAMES & THE GIANT PEACH
Tired of football games, shopping malls and Facebook? How about some live theatre you can share with the whole family. Here are a couple of entertaining all-ages shows that’ll make you laugh or break your heart, let you boo and sing along and bounce a giant peach and learn something about evil step-relatives, assertive kids and ecology.
Cinderella: An East Van Panto is a goofy mash-up of fairy tale, local reference, traditional panto crossdressing and audience participation (boo the villains, cheer the heroes, yell “look behind you!” etc.). … (See review.)
At the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island a different kind of Cinderella story plays itself out in Carousel’s James & the Giant Peach, a musical adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic directed by Carole Higgins. Sweet, sentimental and heartwarming, this show also has its share of grit courtesy of another A-list cast.
English orphan James (Julian Lokash) is sent to live with the two wickedest aunts on earth, Spiker and Sponge (Patti Allan and Deb Williams), who turn him into a Cinderfella. He escapes not via magic pumpkin but giant peach, conjured from the very tree his aunts order him to chop down, accompanied by human-sized versions of the creatures his aunts order him to exterminate: Centipede (Scott Bellis), Ladybug (Kaylee Harwood), Spider (Makayla Moore), Grasshopper (Alex Rose) and Earthworm (Jonathan Winsby).
No glass slipper for James but rather lots of chances to prove his mettle as he navigates the peach-raft and its motley crew through shark-ridden seas and stormy skies. No prince or princess for James at the end of his rainbow but instead a weirdly harmonious surrogate family with whom he’ll live happily ever after in insecticide-free bugland.
Much has been made of the show’s hotshot young Tony-nominated composers, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, but I didn’t find their music especially compelling. The performances are another story. The pure boy-soprano quality of Lokash’s voice makes James’ songs sweetly moving. Winsby is a wonderful singer and his cowardly-lionish Earthworm is a joy. Harwood also sings beautifully as the elegant Ladybug. Rose’s Grasshopper plays a lively fiddle, adding another instrumental voice to the onstage trio of musicians.
The most fun parts of this show for adult me involve the screechy-funny sadistic aunts (scary for the littlest kids–Carousel advertises the show for ages 6+), who provide the sandpaper yin to James and his friends’ velveteen yang; and audience favourite Scott Bellis, whose gruff, sarcastic, misanthropic Centipede keeps the giant peach grounded in the fallen world until he, too, turns softy by the end.
Take your kids to live theatre this Christmas season. They’ll think you’re peachy.