A star is grown: Giant peach wows in CMT’s whimsical ‘James’
Four performances of the musical “James and the Giant Peach” remain this weekend, and while I don’t officially “review” Children’s Musical Theaterworks productions (except sometimes for stuff that the adult creative team is responsible for), I did want to share five juicy good things about the show:
1. The peach.
Throughout the decades, there’s been a lot of childhood literary love for the aberrant piece of fruit that stars in Roald Dahl’s classic book. (We’ll skip the fact that it could be a precursor of the world’s most frightening genetically modified food and focus more on the whimsical side of the story.) Thanks to Dan Aldape’s lighting magic in the CMT production, the mutant peach first appears as a sunset-sized orb projected on the cyc curtain upstage. Then, in a click, it gets bigger, like when your optician increases the magnification during your eye exam, then bigger still. Finally, in a sleight-of-hand burst of radiance, the spot of light becomes flesh and nectar, so to speak. In its final position, the peach looks like it’s a circular, corpulent blimp tethered to a tree.
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2. The set.
Also designed by Aldape, it’s like a citrus grove meets the junkyard set of “CATS.” Director C.J. Dion wanted the production to draw upon the rich history of CMT, and Aldape obliged by using bits and pieces salvaged from past scenic designs. The wheeled contraption spins completely around near the end of the first act, moving from the front of the wicked aunts’ house to the inside of the giant peach itself. Dion told me he got chills the first time it turned, and I have to admit that I did, too.
3. Jaida Jacobie is appealing as James.
She brings a sturdy sense of “I’ll take whatever the world throws at me” as James is first shunted off from a bleak orphanage into the care of her even bleaker aunts, and then finds herself ensconced in the giant peach with a group of very large insects that would likely make other children scream. I like the camaraderie that develops between this new “family.” Dion’s gender-neutral casting works well here.
4. The insect costumes.
How do you dress a centipede? Try a pinstriped suit. Grasshopper gets green fatigues, of course. And Ladybug? A bright red dress with black polka dots. Costumer Jennifer Ruiz doesn’t go for the literal in her design. It’s fun.
5. Jacob Cozzi loves theater.
His energy always comes through. It doesn’t matter whether Cozzi is playing a smaller role, as he does in “Peach” — in this case a Hollywood agent with a glittery gold jacket and an affinity for throwing fistfuls of cash in the air — or when he’s got a starring part, as he did in a recent Good Company Players production of “Footloose.” At all times, he’s “on.” Even when dancing in the dark, as he does at times in “Peach,” I could tell from his silhouette which one was him from the intensity. That kind of stage enthusiasm is catching.