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     April 4, 2017      #21-93 a2z

See KVTA's 'James and the Giant Peach, Jr.'

Jessica Mowry
Special to the Daily Journal

Most of us are familiar with children's book author Roald Dahl's (1916-1990) wildly imaginative and colorful stories like "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "The BFG" and "Matilda."

This weekend, Kankakee Valley Theatre Association Youth Theater is bringing to life one of Dahl's most beloved (and most successful) stories of his career: "James and the Giant Peach, Jr." The show's newly released rights have enabled KVTA to present this musical theater adaptation of Dahl's celebrated tale of adventure, courage, self-discovery and the quest to find family.

Energy was high for the dress rehearsal. Children in sparkly, cartoonish costumes were lined up backstage awaiting their cue for the show's full run-through. Giggles and whispers filled the auditorium at the Lincoln Cultural Center in Kankakee.

"Working with the kids is always the most fun part [of these shows]," said director Marc Harris, of Bourbonnais. "We kind of get them into their places and then let them do their thing. That's always the best part."

Then, characters were summoned to the stage. James, played by Roan Cannon, of Bradley, is strongly reminiscent of Paul Terry's portrayal of the same character from the 1996 film adaptation of the book. He has nearly the same shade of dark red-brown hair and wears a similar pair of striped pajamas.

A narrator in a maroon velvet blazer, played by Thomas Musgrave, of Bourbonnais, introduced the tale, and we saw the first glimpses of James' bug friends, to be introduced later in the show: Grasshopper, played by Justus Keen, of Momence; Ladybug, played by Maddi Reddy, of Bourbonnais; Spider, played by Anna Stephens, of Bourbonnais; Centipede, played by Morgan George, of Bourbonnais; and Earthworm, played by Stephen Menard, of Bourbonnais.

Set changes are dazzling as James' story moves along — many bright and glittery stage pieces help create the musical's world, offering a whimsical, dreamlike feel. It's a perfect tribute to Dahl's original tale. Clever songs and dance numbers further highlight the fanciful nature of the show and tie the whole adaptation together.

"[KVTA has] wanted to put on more shows that utilize children's literature," said assistant director Andrea Sterk. "They're fun, and parents can feel good about bringing their kids to these shows."

The stage pieces are not the only artistic creations on the stage: The character makeup is outstanding and highly detailed. From the appropriately hideous splotches of makeup on James' cruel Aunt Sponge (played by Halle Marshall, of Bourbonnais) and Aunt Spiker (played by Morgan Whalen, of Bradley) to the delightful, Tim Burton-inspired looks of James' band of singing insects (particularly Spider and Ladybug), the creative makeup is sure to delight viewers the longer they look at it. All makeup is done by Alexandra Sterk, of Bourbonnais, a senior at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School.

Full of fun songs, tender moments and the bizarre spectacles and creatures one might expect from a musical based on one of Dahl's books, "James and the Giant Peach, Jr." is sure to delight and entertain every member of the family.

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