REVIEW: ‘James and the Giant Peach’ Is an Enchanting Odyssey Sure to Enthrall Audiences

Tassels have been turned, but the Oakland University School of Music, Theatre and Dance is busy putting the finishing touches on their latest production — a delightful adaptation by Richard George of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach coming to the Varner Recital Hall stage on the campus of Oakland University (OU) on Friday, May 17, Sunday, May 19, and Friday, June 7.

This particular telling of the tale is directed by Lynnae Lehfeldt, along with recent OU theatre grad Mannon McIntosh (Lysistrata Remix) in the role of assistant director, stage manager, and tour manager for the production. For those unfamiliar with the story, it’s quite straightforward: there’s a boy named James and a really, really enormous peach. But it is the fantastic journey he takes with the peach, the new friends he encounters along the way, and the lessons they all learn that make this story so endearing. And none of that would translate well on the stage if it weren’t for the irresistibly fun cast.

Of course, there is James (Braeden Haggarty). An orphan, the poor child is put upon and taken advantage of by his tyrant aunts Spiker (Haley Spencer) and Sponge (Dryden Zurawski). Haggarty does a marvelous job of conveying James’ wide-eyed childlike wonder combined with perfect physical comedy. James’ bleak situation starts looking up one day when he meets a mysterious man (Kyle Kiesler) who gives him a bag of magic green crocodile tongues. The man assures James that once he turns the tongues into a magic potion and drinks it, then fabulous, unbelievable things will happen, and James is guaranteed to never be miserable again in his life. Unfortunately, James is a bit of a klutz and on the way home he trips; spilling all the crocodile tongues onto the ground where they disappear into the earth. Yes. Sometimes fabulous, unbelievable things do happen. They just might not happen the way we think they will as James and his soon-to-be friends learn. Because what those magic tongues end up doing is turning a sad little peach into a gigantic peach that attracts gawkers from miles around!

Where is the world will a giant peach take James and his friends? Find out when Oakland University School of Music, Theatre and Dance presents ‘James and the Giant Peach.’
From L to R: Reggie Swoverland as the ‘Grasshopper,’ Braeden Haggarty as ‘James,’ and Emily Fishman as ‘Centipede.’

One day James crawls inside the peach (to escape his aunts) and discovers the most colorful characters (or rather insects) he’s ever seen. But these insects are unusual, for not only are they as big as James, but they talk too! There’s the wise and musically inclined Grasshopper (Reggie Swoverland), the kind and resourceful Spider (Olive Ferguson), a prim and proper Ladybug (Carleigh Ray), and a somewhat sleepy Glowworm (Jane Lyszak). Rounding out the cast of lively creatures are a bossy Centipede (Emily Fishman) and a pessimistic Earthworm (Connor Rajan). These two over-the-top (or ‘extra’ as kids would say) characters get a kick out of antagonizing each other in a way that’s reminiscent of squabbling siblings and it’s a hoot to watch. And this is what I appreciate about the theatre students in this production – they take it seriously. Sure, they have fun, but what I mean is even though this is a children’s production they approach it the same way they would a more serious piece of theatre. And even though I attended a dress rehearsal, I am confident that once they are in front of an audience, they will take their performance to another level – leaving the audience gasping and giggling.

It is important to remember that even though Dahl’s work is whimsical and filled with quirky characters, beneath the surface there’s always a lesson to be learned. That’s the genius of Dahl. Adults in his works are often ridiculous and cruel, but the children always seem to be gifted with common sense and kindness. They simply need to be given a chance to show both. And James and Company do that in spades. From working together to find a way to escape sharks (Sarah Odom) and other elements of nature, to safely landing in their new home, this is a story that will resonate with children and adults alike.

So, grab your littles and join James on an adventure that’s guaranteed to be just peachy!

The show runs for 45 minutes and there is no intermission.

Admission is $10 for the general public, and $6 for students, children, and the 10:00 a.m. matinee. Children age 2 and under are free. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online without service fees at StarTickets.com.

If you plan on attending the either of the 7:00 p.m. performances on May 17 or June 17, make sure to wear your favorite pair of pajamas – adults too! There will be an additional performance at 11:00 a.m. on June 1 at the Flagstar Strand Theatre for the Performing Arts in Pontiac. Tickets will be available at the door. And don’t miss a chance to see the show shadow-signed for the Deaf by Synergy on Stage at the June 7 performance.

Elementary schools interested in bringing James and the Giant Peach to their school next year should email oaklandtour@gmail.com for more information.

Performance Schedule
  • Friday, May 17 at 10:00 a.m. and 7 p.m.* (Varner Recital Hall)
  • Sunday, May 19 at 2:00 p.m. (Varner Recital Hall)
  • Saturday, June 1 at 11:00 a.m. (Flagstar Strand)
  • Friday, June 7 at 7:00 p.m.*+ (Varner Recital Hall)
* Pajamas welcome
+ Shadow-signed for the Deaf by Synergy on Stage
About Sarah Hovis

Word manipulator, arts appreciator, sports spectator, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at sarah@rochestermedia.com.

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