The gray rainy days are back in Portland. Fall is here and summer is over. But don’t feel glum about the inevitable clouds; instead focus on a vibrant, colossal peach that belongs to James and his bug pals – Grasshopper, Ladybug, Worm, Centipede, Glowworm (unseen), and Spider. In James and the Giant Peach now on stage at Northwest Children’s Theater, it’s all about having adventures, building friendships, creatively solving problems, and one delicious piece of fruit.
Fans of Roald Dahl’s classic book published in 1961, as well as those fans of Disney’s 1996 film, will notice plot differences. But the main gist of the story is there. A little boy living a miserable life at the hand of two spiteful aunts meets human-sized talking arthropods and one earthworm and off they go.
As we entered the theater, both 6-year old girls remarked about the gray curtains and dull backdrop/set. Both wanted to know how there was going to be a giant peach on stage. One had seen the movie and one had not, neither had experienced the book. Once the play was in motion, neither remembered nor cared about their initial issues. As the story continued, both were wide-eyed and possessed agape grins. With the exception of jiggling with excitement at plot turns and twists, both remained that way throughout the play. The play moves swiftly and both acts come to a close quickly. So exciting is the trip on the peach, so enthralling are the giant insects that most children could make it through this 90- minute play without any issue.
The set is simple and the actors are relied upon to ensure that the audience “sees” the peach they’re floating and flying on. The costumes of each insect are far from plain. Each has a Mardi Gras/Cirque quality to them that is eye-catching to put it mildly. The fabrics, painted faces and construction of the outfits give the characters individuality and presence. Kids and adults alike were impressed. The complexity of the costumes for Grasshopper, Worm, and especially Spider may cause adults to wince. After all, they must be quite good at yoga to keep those positions for two 45-minute acts.
James and the Giant Peach is not a musical. There are a couple songs or maybe it was one song repeated but no big musical numbers. There is one scene that may be intimidating for small children who are sensitive to loud noise. The Cloud Men are accompanied by loud drums and other percussion instruments.
A tip for those taking children to this theater for the first time – be sure to use the less crowded staircase for intermission. It’s opposite of the main one and there is a second snack bar there as well. And as always, the cast is available for pictures and autographs in the lobby once the show is over. Don’t be in a panic that you’re going to miss them; they are very good about staying for the kids. Give yourself a minute to get your things together before joining the exiting throng. You may not be first in line but everyone in your group will have their coats.
Review by Crystal Wood. Local mom and PDX Kids Calendar reviewer.