I haven’t seen the movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach since I was a child; upon hearing that Nina Lee Aquino was directing Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s theatrical rendition, I was curious to see how it would turn out come opening night.
This interpretation is quite different from the film, though in a great way. Despite a few minor qualms I have with the production, Young People’s Theatre has yet to put on a show that will actually disappoint me.
A young orphan named James (Matt Nethersole) is sent to live with his last living family members, Spiker (Amaka Umeh) and Sponge (Amy Lee). When the three of them discover that there’s a giant peach growing on a tree in their orchard, Spiker and Sponge plan to get rich off of it. They themselves aren’t the sweetest of peaches, however; they treat James like a subordinate, to the point where he decides to float away on the giant peach with his newfound, life-sized insect friends of all characters and colours.
I really appreciate stories that touch on very real family dynamics. While the show is mostly lighthearted and whimsical, it nevertheless takes the issue seriously with well-placed dialogue hinting that children often need to figure out what’s best for them and those they care about, which can mean challenging what’s normally considered “doing the right thing.”
Nethersole is wide-eyed and caring, though resourceful and fearless as James. The camaraderie between him and the insects is delightful and hilarious. Spider was always my favourite in the film, and I like how Shruti Kothari strays away from the dainty portrayal of her. I will say, though, that Amir Haidar as the scaredy-cat Earthworm is a more effective, sassy straight man than Bruce Dow as the hardheaded Centipede. Additionally, the chemistry between sweethearts Grasshopper (Robert Markus) and Ladybug (Jennifer Villaverde) could be stronger.
By far, my favourite performance is that of Umeh as Spiker. Good heavens, does this woman make me laugh. Her sass, comedic timing and facial expressions are all on point. She does admittedly overshadow Lee a fair bit, who nevertheless is a fun, scatterbrained Sponge in her own right.
While the singing is nice, it could’ve been a little more in tune, but the choreography (by Nicola Pantin) more than makes up for it, ranging from jazz to Latin-inspired dance moves.
While the actors brought a lot of energy on stage, I feel as though the costumes (by Joanna Yu) are watered down in comparison. Each one is unique, yes, but the colours could’ve popped a lot more.
Still, James and his giant peach are a joy to journey with, and this is definitely a peach worth biting into.
James and the Giant Peach runs until Mar. 18 at Young People’s Theatre. For more information, visit youngpeoplestheatre.ca.