James and the Giant Peach by Marple Newton High School in Newtown Square, PA
March 7, 2018
Review submitted by Erin Nevin of Lindenwold High School
Starting March 1st, 2018, Marple Newtown High School began its run of James and the Giant Peach, an endearing musical based on the popular story by Roald Dahl of the same name. James Trotter, portrayed by Tim Smith, is an orphaned child who is taken in by his greedy aunts. When James longs for something more, a strange man – Ladahlord, portrayed by Vinnie Cavallero, who also serves as the narrator of the story – gives him the advice to create a potion that results in the growth of a ginormous peach. From the growth of this peach, a set of six anthropomorphic insects become an unlikely family to James.
The musical numbers, written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, were a true driving factor in making the show so entertaining. The vocals were pleasing to the ear, despite minor microphone malfunctions throughout the performance. Still, the harmonies displayed between the actors in songs such as “Everywhere You Are” were clear as day to the audience. Alongside the vocalists, the orchestra comprised of students did an excellent job of syncing with the actors. And while there were spots where the orchestrations were a little too loud, with some awkward pauses before beginning a few of the numbers, the musical numbers were overall quite charming.
A memorable aspect of this performance was undoubtedly the heart-warming interactions between the insects and James. Olivia Knapp (Ladybug) and Brandon Raglow (Grasshopper) played motherly and fatherly figures to James, the clever costume choices the real Mr. and Mrs. Trotter sport at the beginning the first act and the costumes Knapp and Raglow wear through the show showing the connection. Their loving attitudes towards James reflected in their performance, as it did that of the other insects present such as Spider, Earthworm, Centipede, and Glow Worm (Amanda Reed, Michael Stellabotte, Alex Moon, and Nicole Rivello respectfully) and greatly moved the audience members with their devastating stories.
Contradicting the sweet attitudes of this tale were James’ horrid aunts, Spiker and Sponge, portrayed by Belle Galante and Abby Pancoast. The two were a dynamic duo of penny-pinchers with a willingness to torture and steal from the innocent. Both Galante and Pancoast provided characters that the audience just loved to hate.
Perhaps the most thrilling aspect of this performance was the fact that these young, high school actors had to take up dialects – multiple accents across the world like Brooklyn, Irish, and other British tongues – as well as give off an energy that slapped the audience across the face. In numbers such as “Shake It Up” and “Plump and Juicy,” the incomprehensible energy radiating off the actors put as bright a smile on the audience’s faces. Their spirit mixed with the exquisitely-choreographed dance numbers which made for a show of pure fantasy.
It isn’t hard to see the level of difficulty that went into pulling the strings of this show into a bow, but it also isn’t hard to see that Marple Newtown High School students drove to perfect it so they could give their audience something magical to unfold right before their eyes.
Review submitted by Jessica Dillon of Haverford High School
Marple Newtown put their own magical twist on Roald Dahl’s classic tale, James and the Giant Peach, an orphan boy’s unusual journey in search of someone to call his family. After James’ parents are eaten by rhino in a freak accident, he is sent to live with his two mercenary aunts in their cottage in Dover, England. He somehow finds himself floating across the English Channel in a giant peach with life-sized speaking insects, who end up being more of a family than James has ever seen.
Tim Smith put on a whimsical, childlike performance as James. His emotions and strong vocals carried him through the many twists and turns that his character experiences. Smith did a wonderful job displaying both woe and joy and brought the audience along on his emotional rollercoaster.
Vinnie Cavallero captivated the crowd with his variety in this show. It is hard to believe that Ladahlord, the circus man guiding us through this story, was same person who portrayed Dream James, and even the head costume designer. Cavallero showed the audience what it is to be dedicated as he transitioned from character to character, dressed in the costumes he created himself. The costumes were impressively handmade by Cavallero with the help of a few apprentices.
Despite a few technical errors, the show ran rather smoothly. Marple Newtown combines high school actors with those in the middle and even elementary schools, adding an element of challenge. The fourth graders looked as though they belonged on that stage just as much as the seniors.
James’ wretched aunts, Spiker (Belle Galante) and Sponges (Abby Pancoast) were hilarious together, making the audience hate them while also leaving them begging for more. These two girls are known off stage as the hair and makeup committee; talk about a power duo!
The insects inside the peach simply cannot go unmentioned. Their harmonies and genuine connection made the crowd fall in love. The audience laughed at Earthworm’s (Michael Stellabote) irrational bouts of fear, and we cried and the tragic loss of Centipede’s (Alex Moon) family.
Overall, Marple Newtown put on an excellent performance with minor technical errors.