by Miryam Gordon -
SGN A&E Writer
JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH
SEATTLE CHILDREN'S THEATRE
Through January 12
What is huge, orange, sweet, and a world premiere musical at Seattle Children's Theatre? James and the Giant Peach, of course, with book by Timothy Allen McDonald, lyrics and music by Justin Paul and Benj Pasek, based on the children's novel by Roald Dahl, and directed by Linda Hartzell. Paul and Pasek were part of the team for the heartwarming A Christmas Story that debuted at the 5th Avenue Theatre and went to Broadway.
The excitement was palpable on opening night to see what they've been cooking up for several months. A kick-ass cast, headed by the youthful Mike Spee as James, includes SCT vets Greg McCormick Allen as Grasshopper, Richard Gray as Centipede, and Diana Huey as Spider. Kendra Kassebaum (as Ladybug) and Heath Saunders (as Earthworm) both make their SCT debuts, though they are likely to reappear often in the future.
Jayne Muirhead, in her 20th outing at SCT, and Julie Briskman, with a number of SCT shows under her belt, perform together as the vile sister-aunts Spiker and Sponge. They are the perfectly awful duo who steal the show every time they're onstage together, and get horridly funny songs to boot.
Those who know Dahl's books, including Matilda (another Broadway musical) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the basis for two films), know of the dark humor and sometimes grotesque violence in his work for children. The aunts in this story are quite the evil pair, putting their newly orphaned ward, James, to work as a slave and pick-pocketing with glee. Also, James is orphaned when his parents are run over by a rhinoceros, another dark idea.
This gives the story an edgy appeal for children who don't like the sticky sweetness of a lot of nursery pabulum. However, it definitely means you'd have to think about whether your child is ready for the mild scares this musical might contain, and the suggested age minimum is 6.
A FATEFUL MEETING
James is helped by a mysterious man, who gives him a concoction that might help his future. When James spills it on a tree, the tree grows a peach that gets bigger and bigger until it becomes human-sized. When James ventures inside, he finds some scary human-sized insects and they all fall, with the peach, into the ocean for a fantastical journey from England to New York City.
The peach-dwellers must get along and survive the trip, and learn how to manage their prejudices and differences. They share in eating the peach in measured amounts, and emotionally support each other through moments of doubt. Of course, there is a happy ending.
The musical employs puppets (by Annett Mateo), projections, magic transformations (by set designer Carey Wong and lighting designer Michelle Habeck), and gorgeous, colorful, outrageous costumes (by Cathy Hunt) to entrance the kiddies.
The only quibble might be that the storyline has potential to appeal more to the adult set, and this iteration of the musical, so far, doesn't quite achieve that promise. SCT does sometimes have to walk a fine line between appealing to younger children and entertaining more refined adult palates. Perhaps if the age range were raised a tad, say to a minimum of 8 or 9, more chances could have been taken to drop adult humor into the show.
Still, kids are likely to suspend their disbelief so thoroughly that they completely believe the whole tale. And their delight, shining through their eyes, will be a terrific present during this holiday season to parents wondering what to give their tots. Tickets are flying out the door, though, so get yours soon and find out exactly how SCT creates this magical, growing peach on stage. For more information, go to www.sct.org or call (206) 441-3322.
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