Centipede, Earthworm, Ladybug, Miss Spider, Old-Green-Grasshopper, and their human chum James all come to life “on the legitimate stage” as South Coast Repertory presents Roald Dahl’s James And The Giant Peach, the best possible gift any parent could give his or her child (age four and up) this month.

Like SCR Theatre For Young Audiences offerings before it, James And The Giant Peach follows the winning TFYA formula, its hour-or-so running time (plus a fifteen-minute intermission for snacks and restroom visits) insuring that neither adults nor kids will feel antsy, with an outdoor autograph-and-photo op with the still costumed cast after each show.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? David Wood’s 2001 musical adaptation of Dahl’s 1961 classic features real, live adult actors as insects and human grown-ups, with our very young hero/narrator James brought to life by Wyatt Fenner, and as might be expected from the winner of five Best Actor Scenies, South Coast Rep could not have picked a more enchantingly spunky “captain” to lead an all-around stellar insect band: Richard Doyle in earthworm yellow, Derek Manson in centipede mauve, Jennifer Parsons in spider black, Geoffrey Wade in grasshopper green, and Amelia White in black-on-red spider polka dots.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? The story is Dahl’s now classic tale, one which children, parents, and grandparents have likely either read (or had read to them) over the past sixty-three years, our young protagonist living a miserable childhood with two evil aunts following the deaths of his beloved parents, the victims of a hungry, rampaging elephant.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? When James accidentally drops the sack of tiny green-glowing crocodile tongues given him by a mysterious old man, the peach tree growing in that spot produces a giant fruit which soon becomes a vessel transporting James and the insect companions he finds inside its house-sized pit across the Atlantic to New York City.

Along the way, multiple adventures ensue, the giant peach carried across the seas by a flock of five hundred-plus seagulls thanks to James’s cleverness and plenty of insect team spirit.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Fenner’s James is joined on the Julianne Argyros Stage by a quintet of L.A.’s most talented actors, including married couples Doyle and Parsons, and Wade and White. Adult theatergoer will delight in seeing veteran favorites in multiple roles each, among them Manson and White as flame-haired Aunts Spiker and Sponge, Doyle as the strange Old Man, and Manson as the captain of the Queen Mary.

The cast get to show off their musical theater talents as well, vocalizing to a number of lively songs (original music by Josh Schmidt and musical direction by Deborah Wicks La Puma) and even doing their best Macarena at one point.

Casey Stangl directs with the same panache she has brought to Antaeus productions. (Fenner, Wade, and White are Antaeus Company members.) The entire cast, whose “legit” credits are legion, couldn’t be having more fun on stage, and the audience along with them.

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? The entire production looks quite spiffy indeed, thanks to François-Pierre Couture’s fanciful scenic design, Tom Ruzika’s vivid lighting, Peter Bayne’s clever sound design, and above all to Angela Balogh Calin’s supremely imaginative costumes, including Centipede’s running shoe-festooned suit, blind Earthworm’s great-big-round glasses, and Ladybug’s dominatrix black.

Jennifer Sherman is stage manager. Jackie S. Hill is production manager.

Like the previously reviewed Imagine, The Brand New Kid, Junie B. Jones, and The Night Fairy, James And The Giant Peach guarantees a great good time to children and adults alike.

It is, simply put, one peach of a show.

South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Through February 27. Saturdays at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sundays at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Also Friday February 21 at 7 p.m. Reservations: (714) 708-5552

–Steven Stanley
February 15, 2014
Photos: Debora Robinson, SCR

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