Magical for Kids and Adults at LBI Arts Foundation
The Bellarine Theatre Co. is presenting “James and the Giant Peach Jr.” at the Long Beach Island Foundation of the Arts and Sciences at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, March 31 and April 1, and at 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, April 1 and 2.
I am a voracious reader, usually tearing into four to 10 books at the same time, flipping back and forth among general nonfiction, Civil and Revolutionary war histories and biographies, classic fiction, serious contemporary fiction and light mysteries and thrillers. It’s a habit I developed very early in life, making the transition from picture books to adult literature almost instantly, thanks to an early gift of six Mark Twain novels that both captured my imagination and served as my primer.
That fast move out of the children’s section of the library into the general shelves had a serious consequence: I never read classic fantasies for older children and young adults such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia or even The Hobbitand The Lord of the Rings, despite the fact they were all the rage when I was in college. So thank God for movies, stage and music. Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” for example, led me to Lewis Carroll; Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy had me checking out Tolkien.
Now Bellarine has led me to Roald Dahl.
The company’s production of “Giant Peach,” performed by actors from grades three through nine, is just peachy!
It starts with a mysterious narrator, Ladahlord (Alexa Tabbacchino), sort of a weird mixture of The Cat in the Hat and the emcee from “Cabaret,” leading the cast in singing “Right Before Your Eyes”:
Right before your eyes
Marvel, as magic’s on display
Right before your eyes
All might seem tragic, but then it’s okay
Oh, a new surprise
Right before your eyes.
The audience is then introduced to James (Autumn Mangan), an orphan due to the fact his parents were killed by a rhino (tragic) that escaped the London Zoo. A matron tells him that he has two aunts in Dover who are going to take him in.
That should be good news, right? Not! Aunts Spiker (Amanda Delbury) and Sponge (Nadia Jewel Vito) are small-time thieves, as evil as Miss Hannigan from “Annie,” only there are two of them. They plan on using James as their personal servant and show him to his quarters, a dank basement, where he will live with the “rest of the creep-crawlies.”
James sees the seashore in the distance and thrills at the opportunity to play there with his friends. But that’s not to be. The aunts will splash in the waves; the boy will work, given the task of chopping down a decrepit pear tree on the property.
Ladahlord appears again, giving James a book of potions. He picks one, “Crocodile Tongues,” and the Garden Chorus and a variety of insects assemble the ingredients. As Ladahlord explains in the song “Shake It Up,” he must add seven drops of well water and drink it in one gulp. Instead he spills the ingredients and Grasshopper (Jonathan Leach), Ladybug (Rachel Vazquez), Spider (Mikaela McGovern), Earthworm (Emma Wasacz) and Centipede (Mitchell Critelli) chase the croc tongues offstage.
The aunts return and spot a giant peach hanging from the tree. A super-giant peach! Sponge, as is her wont, thinks only of eating it. Spiker thinks super-giant money and invites the press, gardening clubs and Hollywood agents to see it, garnering hundreds, no, thousands of contracts and a suitcase stuffed with money. They’ve got it made, but not James, whom they brand a liar when he says he caused the peach to reach its gargantuan proportions – a liar, they say, nobody will believe over them.
A little later on, James notices something very strange indeed about the peach. It has a doorknob. He opens it, is sucked into the fruit, and encounters talking, human-sized critters – a grasshopper, ladybug, spider, earthworm and centipede.
Then the adventure kicks into high gear. The pear’s stem breaks and the pear rolls through town into the English Channel. James and company wonder if they’ll reach France safely and are hungry and thirsty. Their situation deteriorates when the peach floats into the open Atlantic and heads westward with the tide.
James comes up with a simple but great idea to deal with the group’s hunger and thirst – eat the flesh of the peach. Meanwhile another threat develops. A school of hungry sharks also thinks the peach will make a fine meal. There is a large flock of gulls overhead. If only they can lure the birds close enough to have Spider ensnare them with a web so they can lift and fly the peach and its inhabitants away from danger. But how can they entice the gulls to fly close enough for Spider to spin her magic? Apparently gulls don’t like peaches. (Dahl, it seems, didn’t realize gulls will eat just about anything.)
Earthworm decides to sacrifice for the group’s good and act as bait. After all, this is a human-sized earthworm, “plump and juicy.” The bait works (and Earthworm survives). The peach flies off toward New York City.
Spiker and Sponge happen to be on a ship heading to the Big Apple (hmm, a perfect destination for a large fruit) as well. They’ve spent the fortune they made displaying the peach and are headed toward a city filled with suckers so they can scam and rob a huge new population.
Will the peach safely reach shore? Will the aunts, who realize it is headed to the same destination they are, be able to capture James and claim the peach as their own once again? You’ll have to turn the page to find out.
The Bellarine production is delightful. The simple set – an interior view of the giant peach – is effective; the costumes and makeup, especially in the case of Grasshopper, Ladybug and the gulls, are pitch perfect. Speaking of pitch perfect, check out Vazquez when she sings, “Everywhere That You Are,” a song that assures James his parents will always be with him. Mangan is simply adorable as James; Delbury and Vito are appropriately disgusting as the aunts, and you simply can’t take your eyes off Tabbacchino every time she is on stage. Meanwhile, the large cast is given plenty of opportunities to contribute to the fun.
Kids will love the show, although it may cause nightmares for the tiniest. Adults who read Dahl’s classic book will enjoy seeing the characters come alive. And adults like me, who didn’t experience Dahl’s magic as a child, will have the opportunity to fill in a gaping hole in their literacy.
Tickets for “James and the Giant Peach” are $18 for adults unless they want to pony up $20 for VIP seating, while students and seniors need pay only $15, and tickets for children 12 years of age and younger are $12. They may be purchased by calling 609-661-2083 or online at btco.booktix.com.