Saturday, October 10, 2015

reviews - JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH - Valley Youth Theatre

Owen Watson
photo: Skye Fallon / Valley Youth Theatre
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 25th.

"...when we first meet young James Henry Trotter (a perfectly appropriate Owen Watson with a nice accent) he’s already an orphan and he’s wondering what his future life might be.  With no parents and no immediate family to speak of, the orphanage locates two of James’ aunts who live together in Dover down by the English Channel, and it’s there where everything changes for the little English boy...James is forced to live with his aunts by the sea who not only possess the oddest of names but turn out to be the most despicable two people in Dover....The effect of traveling across the ocean inside a giant peach is done well.  Once the fruit near the sea magically grows in size, James crawls inside to escape the taunts of his horrible relatives and finds himself surrounded by five insects who, just like the peach, have increased in height to the point where every one now towers over James.  These are the new adults in his life, and even though Centipede (the always reliable Connor Baker) is not exactly the friendliest of insects, the others – Ladybug (Isabella Conner), Grasshopper (Nathan Franzke), Earthworm (Sam Primack) and Glow Worm (Avery Strachan) – take to James as they float their way across the English Channel together in their makeshift, edible raft and out into the Atlantic towards New York....The new score from Benj Paek and Justin Paul is full of pleasant, upbeat numbers that here appear to work better in the quieter solo moments rather than when the whole cast join in.  James’ haunting On Your Way Home sung by Owen from his orphanage bed sets the tone for both his wants and desires, and when Isabella’s Ladybug soothes a worried James by beginning an ensemble song as an introductory solo, the moment and Isabella’s voice is both as sweet and as comforting for us as it is to the little boy....The recorded music – here very effective and never in danger of drowning the cast – plays as scenes change from one to another so that we’re never left in silence, but the production falters by having some of those moments feel as though we’re really watching a good  final rehearsal rather than the finished production.  Daniel Davisson’s lighting design coupled with Karol Coopers delightful costumes give the production a healthy, colorful glow throughout.  Director Bobb Cooper, who here doubles as choreographer, has a well established knack for fleshing out the best in young performers, and even though there’s a tendency for some to shout their lines rather than project, his Valley Youth cast delivers.  Plus, music director Rebecca Joslin brings out the best in all the young voices, as evidenced in the two above-mentioned examples.
 With a running time of seventy minutes, plus intermission, James and the Giant Peach never overstays its welcome, and true to its Roald Dahl origins, inspires the imagination to look beyond what we see before our eyes.  And if this happens to be the first live production your child has ever seen on the VYT stage, they’ll be transfixed. " -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"...the musical version of James and the Giant Peach, which is based on (Roadl) Dahl's 1961 book. The fairly simple story follows the adventures of a young orphan boy, some oversized insects, and a very large peach—and it's a charmer. Valley Youth Theatre's production has a cast comprised of some exceptionally talented young actors and results in a heartwarming, toe tapping treat for the entire family....Benj Pasek and Justin Paul's score includes charming ballads, character pieces with witty lyrics, and several up-beat ensemble numbers...Director Bobb Cooper has assembled a wonderful cast, all capable of getting laughs from the funny script, led by the charming Owen Watson (as James), who has a sweet disposition, a lovingly displayed sense of wonder, and a fairly good and consistent English accent. ...Addison Bowman and Haley Hanni are a hoot as James' selfish, nasty aunts, Spiker and Sponge. They play off each other well, and their over the top comical delivery achieves hilarious portrayals of these horrible women who you love to hate....Karol Cooper's costumes and make-up designs are excellent. ...James and the Giant Peach is a brisk, comical show with several catchy tunes and memorable characters. While most of Dahl's trademark dark and scary moments have been omitted from this adaptation, making it completely child friendly, what rings clear is the message of family and how a person's actual family doesn't necessarily always make the best home, while his true friends does. With a solid production of this famous tale, Valley Youth Theatre proves once again that their talented casts, color creative elements, and exceptional direction result in some of the best family friendly theatre in the Valley." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"under the inspired direction and choreography of Bobb Cooper...James and the Giant Peach... bursts with energy, heightened by the upbeat score of Tony nominees Benj Pasek and Justin Paul....delivers a salient message about love and loyalty, bonding and family ties, trust and endurance though life's choppy seas. ...James, portrayed by the winningly affable eleven-year-old Owen Watson, is the orphan placed in the money-grubbing hands of his aunts, aptly named Spiker and Sponge, whose aim is to exploit him for their own nefarious purposes. He'll be their Cinder-feller until, miracle of miracles, and with a little bit of help from a back yard potion, a humongous peach appears, providing a portal to freedom....Addison Bowman and Haley Hanni are simply terrific as Spiker and Sponge. They sing and dance their evil ways with flair and style...The creatures, in turn, are endowed and adorned by Karol Cooper's stunning, imaginative, and colorful costumes and headpieces."  -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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