‘James and the Giant Peach’ healthy children’s fare

By Eva Trieger

Eva Trieger

CORONADO, California –Little ushers in a summer theater season quite so well as a fantasy featuring triumph over evil, new and lasting friendships, and sinister suspense, all bathed in sticky sweet ripe peach juice.  That is precisely what the partnership of Pickwick Players and Coronado Playhouse is serving up for the next month!

With a very capable cast of all ages and experiences, a jazzy musical score, and some fancy choreographed footwork, James and the Giant Peach has alighted at the Coronado Playhouse, San Diego’s oldest, longest-running community theater in San Diego!

In this intimate 100-seat setting, theatergoers will delight as James (Owen Schmutz) tugs at our heartstrings.  Poor child was orphaned when his parents were trampled by an escapee rhino from the London zoo.  To his dismay, poor James is sent to live with his conniving, cruel aunties, Spiker (Susan Bray) and Sponge (Sue Boland).

Relegating him to hard labor, and nasty neglect, James is left to fend for himself.  Luckily, he encounters the wise and mystical Ladahlord (Kimberly King) who proffers a secret remedy, but she cautions him to handle it with care, for it is a potent magic, and whomever ingests it will grow to gargantuan proportions.  No spoiler alerts here, but suffice it to say that James has a wee accident, and the result is anything but miniscule.

Pickwick Players and Coronado Playhouse joined forces previously to delight audiences with A Year with Frog and Toad. So it is with great excitement they unite again with a show based on Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s musical collaboration with playwright Timothy Allen McDonald to give Roald Dahl’s 1961 children’s book a new lease on life. Dahl’s penchant for creating evil, selfish and hideous adults is legendary.

Our young protagonist turns to his new, anything-but-garden-variety friends from the garden.  All of the insects who made their homes in the peach tree become James’ saviors, confidantes, travelling companions, while he becomes their champion and hero.  The sweet and maternal Ladybug (Denise Blase) and her boyfriend, Grasshopper (Lucas Goodman), come to James’ aid almost immediately, including him and protecting him from the roguish, brash and delightfully menacing Centipede (Bob McMains).  Earthworm (Zack King) is an anxious, fretful fellow who undergoes a transformation before our eyes.  Rounding out the peach’s inhabitants is the seductive and sarcastic Spider (Kira Vine).The Ensemble members complete the very talented cast as Press, a Bobby, Ladies, seagulls, sharks and a host of other characters.

Though there is a great variance among their ages and resumes, all are immensely talented and each sings and dances with panache. These actors hail from as far as the Bay Area (Skyler Jude Markman), and as near as  our own back yards of Point Loma and Chula Vista, (Tara Beth Palmer, Sandra Ruis, Alyssa Salacup, Kendall Skye, Sofia Gurrola and Oliver Caro-Willcox.

An exceedingly impressive creative team manipulates the small stage and provides a number of brilliant illusions and optical suggestions, including the mutant peach tree, a bicycle, lizard tongues and a transatlantic journey (no first class; it was the pits) replete with the skyline and the Empire State Building. No less fantastic are the costumes and makeup.  Laura Sutton makes sure that each insect is adorned with the appropriate dots, spots, tentacles and extra legs and boots!  The glitter and glow enhances each actor’s characterization.

Puppets created by Lynne Jennings serve as the introduction to our bugs before they ingest the magic elements.The collaborative direction of Teri Ang, music by Michael Anthony and choreography by Alisa Williams is truly not to be missed. The synergy between the directors, cast and crew makes James and the Giant Peach a completely delightful way to embrace summer.  The Bob Fosse style dance numbers, clever lyrics and tender script are a recipe for one peach of a show. Coronado Playhouse through July 2.  Tickets may be purchased a www.CoronadoPlayhouse.com or by calling 619.435.4856.

Eva Trieger is a freelance writer specializing in the arts.  She may be contacted via [email protected]

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