If you’re a fan of Roald Dahl’s literature, James and the Giant Peach at Saginaw’s Pit and Balcony will be a delightful trip down memory lane. Whimsical music and colorful costumes accompany James on his journey across the Atlantic Ocean on his giant peach as he saves his larger than life insect friends from peril using only his imagination.
Putting a show squarely on the shoulders of a young actor can be risky, but in this case, the audience reaped the rewards of Daniel Barnes’ dynamic performance as James. He has timing and physicality that is well beyond his eleven years, and the specificity of his movement was impressive for an actor of any age.
The script gets off to a bit of a slow start (which is no fault of the actors or director), but the audience warms to James easily. You root for him to escape the grasp of his Dursley-esque aunts. Most of the action takes place in the second act, which is when this show truly comes to life. Aided by the energetic physicality of Nouvel Junior Mary Kolleth (Miss Spider) and stage veterans Isiah Barnes (Green Grasshopper) and Gina Kearly (Centipede), the show moves at a nice pace for the remainder of performance.
This show is an undertaking for Pit and Balcony and director Hope Nagy, with fantasy elements and multiple settings throughout. There were moments of brilliance in the use of shadow puppets, a peach made partially of scrim, clouds that flew out at the perfect time, and a rhino puppet cameo, but this reviewer hoped to see these fantastical elements used more frequently throughout the show. Overall, the technical elements served the story, but ultimately left something to be desired.
The set design rose to the challenge of depicting a giant piece of fruit on stage, but the stone wall and tree upstage left made the peach relatively stationary, limiting the movement of the actors to stage right for most of the second act. The capable ensemble could have been utilized further to help create stage pictures and transition the scenes more smoothly.
Costumes by Mary Boone and Tony Ray were effective without being too literal (the Earthworm costume was a personal favorite.) Cast members were also able to be easily transitioned from one character to another when necessary.
Lighting design by Jacob Kaufman was functional and well-executed, but could have benefitted from a touch more “magic.” Sound design by L’Oreal Hartwell was whimsical and added a special nostalgic spark when used, but again, could have been used more frequently to greater effect.
It was a special treat to watch this show seated next to young audience members. They were enthralled by the story, and their vivid imaginations filled in any gaps caused by the limitations of theatrical special effects. They gleefully participated when invited, bopped in their seats to the music, and asked to meet the characters after the show. The ride home was full of chatter about James’ ingenuity, and at the end of the day, what more can you ask for from a children’s show?
James and the Giant Peach runs at Pit and Balcony Theatre January 26th and 27th, and February 1st-3rd, with Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 PM and Sunday shows at 3:00 PM. Tickets are available online, at the box office, or by phone at 989-754-6583.
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