Ottawa Event Review: James and the Giant Peach

Tonight, I had the pleasure of attending opening night of Suzart Productions’ James and the Giant Peach at Centrepointe Theatres. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Suzart, they are a non-profit musical theatre company that prides themselves on offering affordable entertainment for the entire family. The show, James and the Giant Peach, is the musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel. The story features a young orphan boy named James who is sent to live with his awful aunts, and the antics that ensue. As always, I don’t want to give away too much of the story in the review, so instead, will focus on what made this performance tonight so spectacular, in the hopes that you, too will be inspired to go and see this incredible show!

The venue is the smaller theatre at Centrepointe. I love the small theatre. It offers such an up-close, personal experience with the cast members. In this show, audience members were treated to many characters dancing right alongside them in their seats, which I think is a really cool aspect. It’s great to be able to see a character that closely!

This is a really strong cast. The show starts off with an introduction from Ladahlord, a mysterious, magical narrator/friend to James who appears throughout the show. This character, played by Lesley Hammil requires a strong presence and voice, both of which Hammil nailed. She was a great introduction to the show.

James was played by the young Oban Mombourquette. Mombourquette did a phenomenal job in this character. He perfectly embodied the sweet, sometimes unsure, but always kind James Henry Trotter. He has a really great singing voice, and his performance of “Middle of a Moment” really touched the audience. It’s always impressive to me when a young child can carry the weight and responsibility of the title role in a major musical, but he really did.

Throughout the show, there were many entertaining moments. I loved the moody moments from Centipede, played by Brad Jacobs, and the way that he interacted with the other characters. He was grumpy, yet funny and lovable in his own way. Grasshopper and Ladybug, played by Sara Smits, had some very sweet moments together, which was cute to see. They are both incredibly talented vocally, and their voices blended seamlessly during the song, “Everywhere That You Are.” This was one of my favourite moments.

There were a few standout performances in this show. I have to give major credit to my two favourite characters in the entire production: Grasshopper and Earthworm. I’ll start with the performance of Grasshopper, played by Ryan Melvaer. Melvaer was just a great combination of a very articulate speaker, a great singer, and just absolutely owned the role, never slipping from character. Also, I think that his costume was my favourite as well, and just added to the brilliance of his character.

Earthworm, played by Steve Vesely, was so funny. I see a lot of shows, and it’s been a long time since I have been THIS entertained by one character. Vesely’s take on this character is absolutely hilarious. Earthworm is a bit of a wimp in the show, and Vesely takes that to the next level, in the best possible ways! Everything from a quivering voice to exaggerated movements make this character truly loveable. There are SO many great moments from him, but a highlight for me was the song, “Plump and Juicy.” I was laughing out loud for almost the entire number! Wow, is this guy ever talented. I really hope to see Vesely in many more productions to come.

Next, Niku Shaeri, as Spider, was fantastic. Equal parts scary and sweet, this character is extremely loveable. Shaeri projects these characteristics well, and the audience was left feeling as though she really was James’ greatest protector. Shaeri had a lot of charisma on stage, and was smiling throughout the show, which I feel showed the kinder side of Spider. This gave the performance a lot of depth. Her performance was amazing.

The aunts, Spiker, played by Francine Landry, and Sponge, played by Nadine Levin, offered another notable performance. These two, while noticeably equally talented on their own, formed the perfect pair, and complimented one another quite nicely! I know from the book that these characters are meant to be extremely unlikeable, but they played off of one another so well, it was hard not to like them just a little! They have a lot of very funny lines, and the delivery was impeccable. Their costumes and makeup made them even funnier! Even when a character is meant to be hated, if they are well cast, then the audience nonetheless looks forward to their next scene, and that was exactly the case with these two. I kept thinking, “what will they do next?”

While all of the lead characters had shining moments, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention the large ensemble. This show’s chorus was comprised mostly of children, who appeared to be in the 8-12 age range. I loved this, as I feel as though this show is meant to portray the world through the eyes of an imaginative little boy, and having so many children on stage in each scene really brought that to life. It was easy for the audience to get caught up in the magic! There was also a small group of adults, who clearly have a lot of performance experience, as their flawless execution of the dance moves brought order to a sometimes-chaotic stage (this is more of an observation than a critique-I can imagine that it is not easy to choreograph THAT many children, all on stage at once!) So I was glad to see the adults, who were extremely strong dancers and singers. I feel as though every show needs a few seasoned professionals, and these ensemble members really fit that bill.

Speaking of choreography, I loved all of the dance numbers, choreographed by Cass Marks. The moves did not appear to be simplistic, as one might expect with a cast full of children, and there were so many things going on at once, that I was in awe throughout most of the show. Kudos to Marks on a job well done!

The costuming in this show is the best that I have seen in any show, ever. There were so many bright colours, and so much creativity in each of the lead characters’ costumes! For example, Centipede’s costume is adorned with tiny baby socks, representing all of his feet, and Spider and Ladybug’s elaborate costumes featured beautiful headpieces, which look as though they took hours to make. The ensemble’s costumes are equally impressive; I have to say that my favourite looks of theirs were the fish costumes. The artistic touch created by Kraig-Paul Proulx for the set and the costumes was fantastic! Also, the puppets, created by Elaine McCausland, which you see throughout the show, are breathtaking and really well made and designed.

The makeup, too, was fantastic. It really brought the characters to life! I was impressed with both the creativity/vision that went into creating these looks and the implementation of that vision. Clearly there is a talented team of makeup artists working behind the scenes.

The sets in this show are minimal, but fantastic! I loved that they really captured the essence of a child’s imagination! The painting on the backdrops is really impressive, and the peach tree, with its glittery branches, towering at the back of the stage, is truly a work of art. These were all created by Kraig-Paul Proulx.

All in all, this show really wowed me. I cannot imagine what it would be like to organize that many people in that many scenes, especially young children, but somehow, they pulled it off! I feel as though the Director of a show is often the unsung hero, so I would like to acknowledge Dani Bone-Corbishley, who executed this show with creativity and flair!

The music in the show couldn’t have been possible without the talented Taryn Mader leading the way with a talented group of musicians in the orchestra.

I would absolutely recommend checking this show out, especially if you have young kids, but even if you are an adult who loves good theatre. Was everything perfect? Nope! There were a few missteps here and there, and a few moments where the music seemed to get ahead of the cast, or vice versa. There were a few times where it was hard to hear what was being sung, or when the words seemed to get a bit mumbled. Did that take away from my enjoyment of the show? Not at all. If anything, it really just added to the charm of this show! James and the Giant Peach is the perfect family friendly event to attend this weekend! Shows run Thursday through Sunday, May 24-27, 2018, with two performances on Saturday. Tickets are available on the Centrepointe Theatres website or by clicking here!

2 thoughts on “Ottawa Event Review: James and the Giant Peach

  1. Was this production sung a capella? You do not mention the person who accompanied the entire production, i.e., the musical director, which is a shame.

    1. Hi there, thank you for your feedback. There was a small group of musicians (4), but I felt as though to remain a positive review and in order to capture the overall great feeling that I left with, the musicians should only have a short comment. I can elaborate by saying that individually, the musicians appear to be quite talented, but as a whole, they did not work well as a cohesive team. I have no suggestions as to why that is, so in order to avoid speculation, I left that part out. Thank you again for your feedback, I will endeavour to get more detailed on future reviews as I have done in the past.

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