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Theater Review: “James and the Giant Peach”

A musical about a giant peach you can nibble (and live on) while floating to France, along with five colorful, funny, singing, philosophizing insects? What’s not to like?

SDSU’s School of Theatre, Television and Film presents the musical version of Roald Dahl’s delightfully goofy novel “James and the Giant Peach” through May 3 only. Don’t even finish reading this until you book your ticket (see the bottom of this review).

James Henry Trotter (Emma Chassey) is a little boy in an English orphanage who has nightmares about his parents, who were gobbled up by a rhinoceros at the London zoo. James is a pretty lonely kid, especially since the people who run the orphanage aren’t especially nice to him (thanks to the wonderfully mean Matron Nurse, wickedly played by Ross Graham).

One night James is visited by a pretty Ladybug (Eden Hildebrand) and a Grasshopper (Devon Hunt) – the first creatures to show James kindness in quite a while – and he asks plaintively, “May I hold onto your wings and come with you?”

Alas, the next morning James is told by that awful nurse that he’s leaving the orphanage to live with his aunts Spiker (mean, lean and greedy Lauren Haughton) and Sponge (gloriously fat, I mean really fat, funny and male Trist Fishman).

The aunts take one look at James and decide (in “Property of Spiker and Sponge”) that he’d make a great slave. James sees a beach way down there and asks if they could go. Instead, the aunties go and leave James to cut down the tree that has a spider web hanging off it.

Instead, Ladahlord (Shayne Mims, the Merlin of the piece) stops him and offers one free spell (with potion) from his book, singing “Shake It Up.” But on the way back to the aunties, James trips and spills the potion all over the tree.

The next morning, there is a giant peach growing on the tree. Sensing there’s money to be made, Spiker and Sponge call the media and arrange commercial deals with various companies.

When James tells the aunts he’s responsible for the tree, they call him a liar and make him sleep outside. He enters the peach and meets the two insects he’d met earlier and three more: put-upon Earthworm (Richard Morrison), lithe Spider (Emmy Farese) and wise Centipede (Marcus Rutledge).

Centipede cuts the stem off the peach, and suddenly peach (and its inhabitants) are rolling into the ocean and beginning to float toward France.

That’s just the first act. The show benefits from subtle British humor, captivating critters and a great song in “Have You Ever Begun to Wonder,” where James will learn “your world can change because you believe it can.”

This show showcases not just the usual fine acting and directing, but the extraordinary efforts of the designers and tech crew. The fabulous costumes are by MFA student designer Brooke Kesler, with advice from professional designer Denitsa Bliznakova.

The puppet builders deserve special mention for their colorful, amusing work. They are Brooke Kesler, Faith James, Taylor S Payne, Teri Tavares, Ryan Almario, Aria Huerto and Emily Gavin.

Fine lighting is provided by MFA student designer Sarah Schwartz. The scenery is designed by MFA student designer Victoria Vitola. 

Nolan Voge contributes the excellent sound design. Projections are particularly important here, and well done by MFA student designer Scott Boynton.

But back to the plot. All is not smooth sailing. The peach is attacked by sharks. Will they escape? Will they end up in France?

Go to SDSU and find out. That’s an order.

The details

“James and the Giant Peach” plays through May 3, 2019, at the Don Powell Theatre on the SDSU campus.

Sunday at 2 pm.; Wednesday through Friday at 7:30 pm.

Tickets: theatre.sdsu.edu