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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Daring to be different in Manitowoc: ‘James and the Giant Peach’

Critic At Large

Peter Quince Performing Company

Aunt Sponge (Kaelle Hoepper), narrator Ladahlord (Olivia Lutterman) and Aunt Spiker (Maya Gadzinski) spot a giant peach at sea in the Peter Quince Performing Company production of “James and the Giant Peach.” (Company photo)

MANITOWOC, Wis. (WFRV)

It fits. These are all different: Roald Dahl, “James and the Giant Peach” and Peter Quince Performing Company.

Peter Quince Performing Company is a self-contained theater entity that cuts off membership at age 23. The troupe started 50 years ago, and its current show is its 51st.

Roald Dahl was a writer with fanciful ways and a bent sense of humor. Another of his creations was “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” of Willy Wonka and the Oompa Loompas fame.

“James and the Giant Peach” is a kid story with grown-up twists. Mostly, it is way out. Weird. Way out weird and lovin’ it.

As a musical, “James and the Giant Peach” is difficult to do on a youth troupe budget – the story travels from England to New York City across the sea – but Peter Quince Performing Company is having at it.

One more performance remains today in University Theatre in Lakeside Hall of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Manitowoc Campus.

The show celebrates imagination.

Right off, in song, it tells the audience amazing things will happen. The song is “Right Before Your Eyes,” presented by shape-changing narrator Lalahlord, brightly performed by Olivia Lutterman. The song is inserted along the way as amazing things are about to take place.

The story turns on the life of James Henry Trotter, performed and sung with a yearning quality by Lila Lor. James is orphaned when his parents are killed by a rhinoceros that has escaped from a zoo in London. James is tossed on the doorstep of his selfish, mean and greedy aunts, Spiker and Sponge – played with devilish glee by Maya Gadzinski and Kaelle Hoepper, respectively.

Lalahlord empowers James with magical gifts with a potion, setting off a whole lot of surreal stuff. Little is of this world. Like this: On a “dead” tree, a peach grows and grows, falls off and rolls into the ocean nearby; on board are James and insects and a worm that become friends. Cleverly costumed and made up and earnestly performed, they are Grasshopper (Henry Rotter), Ladybug (Jessica Iannitello), Spider (Maya Pagel), Centipede (Max Schoepp) and Earthworm (Bryce Howe).

Humans have wrecked the family of each creature, so James’ friendship is suspect. But James earns the creatures’ respect. Yes, surreal.

An unseen 17-member orchestra plays a score that tends to have jazzy/lively flavors.

A major set piece is the giant peach. It IS giant. It’s 10 feet around, is mobile by way of rollers, opens to reveal a pit and a series of steps and holds James and the creatures. In the story, it drifts across the sea with its flag being the Ladybug’s spare bloomers.

Oddball humor is all around. Sample: One of James’ jobs is to shave the hair on Aunt Sponge’s back.

The ensemble – bunches of characters met along the way – leaps into songs and dances and action (all a bit off the wall) with a sense of fun.

Saturday night’s performance had sound challenges in wireless headsets not working/working.

“James and the Giant Peach” is a bit beyond the means of Peter Quince Performing Company, but this production offers the gist of a show that takes a road less traveled. As surreal musical theater goes, “James and the Giant Peach” is peach not forgotten.

***

Creative: Based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name; music and lyrics – Benj Pasek, Justin Paul; book – Timothy McDonald; producer – Riley Seib; general director – Allyson Stokes; technical directors/set sound and lighting designers/ – Nick Ruzek, Henry Rotter; choral director – Hanna Lackershire; choreographer – Kiersten Moser; assistant choreographer – Mackenzi stokes; pit director – Ryan Kluba; props master – Olivia Lutterman; costume designer head, art designer – Gabrielle Damian; make-up/hair designers – Samantha Krueger, Hanna Lackershire; stage manager – Stephanie Watkins; assistant stage manager – Elizabeth Hoffman

Cast:

Ladahlord – Olivia Lutterman

James – Lila Lor

Grasshopper – Henry Rotter

Ladybug – Jessica Iannitello

Spider – Maya Pagel

Centipede – Max Schoepp

Earthworm – Bryce Howe

Spiker – Maya Gadzinski

Sponge – Kaelle Hoepper

Featured dancers – Addison Fowler, Alexa Malley, Audra Hampton-Gregory

Emily Schaller, Joey Simmons, Kelsey Zdziarski

Reporter #1 – Audra Hampton-Gregory

Jake – Brody VanderBloomen

Billy Bobby Cop – Collin Lukes

Joe – Christopher Prince

Bitsy Botana – Emily Schaller

Bobby Bobby Cop – Joey Simmons

Vagrant #2 – Kelsey Zdziarski

Mrs. Trotter – Mary Iannitello

Ensemble – Nathan Luckow

Buzz, Mr. Trotter – Noah Van Ells

Matron Nurse – Samantha Krueger

Lucille VanKooglestein – Vanessa Stalvey

Vagrant #1 – Michael Clapper

Orchestra: Piano – Madeline Oswald; keyboard – Chris Walaszek; drums – Noah Babich; percussion – Nolan Winter; reed 1 – Sarah Schumacher; flute, piccolo – Taya Schreiter; reed 2 – Esther Teresinski; reed 3 – Kalina Akgulian; bassoon – Esther Teresinski; horn 1 – Evan Vant Hul; horn 2 – Isabella Bennett; trombone – Benjamin Vaganov; trumpet 1 – Joey O’Connor; trumpet 2 – Isabella Bennett; violin – Tiegan Fager; viola – Abbey Barnett; cello – Rori Bealty; bass – Talia Musial; guitar – Jake Puestow

Running time: One hour, 53 minutes

Remaining performance: 3 p.m. Aug. 11

Info: pqpc.org

***

Musical numbers

Act I

“Right Before Your Eyes” – Ladahlord, Company

“On Your Way Home” – James

“Right Before Your Eyes” (Reprise 1) – Ladahlord

“Property of Spiker and Sponge” – Spiker, Sponge, Vagrants

“Right Before Your Eyes” (Reprise 2) – Ladahlord

“Shake It Up” – Ladahlord, James, Garden Chorus, Insects

“Shake It Up” (Reprise) – Garden Chorus

 “Money on That Tree” – Spiker, Sponge, Reporters, Garden Guild, Agents

“Middle of a Moment” – James

“Our Adventure Begins” – Ladahlord, Willy Wonka and Oompa Loompas, Farm Animals, Insects

“Floatin’ Along” – Insects

Act II

“Have You Even Begun to Wonder?” – Insects

“Getaway for Spiker and Sponge” – Spiker, Sponge, Angry Crowd

“Everywhere That You Are” – Ladybug, Grasshopper, Earthworm, Spider

“Right Before Your Eyes” (Reprise 3) – Ladahlord

“I Got You” – Spiker, Sponge, Cruise Ensemble

“Plump and Juicy” – James, Insects, Seagulls

“Empire State/The Attack” – Ladahlord, New Yorkers

“On Your Way Home” (Reprise) – James

“Welcome Home” – Company

***

THE VENUE: Opened in 2001 as part of Lakeside Hall, University Theatre of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Manitowoc Campus is a handsome space seating 325. The space has a wide-angle feel. Gray is one prominent color; it’s in squares of acoustical material in the ceiling and on the side and rear walls. Safety lighting on the lower part of the side walls is an annoyance when the hall is dark: Too bright. Wood, chiefly light toned, also is prominent in areas of framework and on the front of the raised stage. The stage is a hybrid; while it has proscenium (flat-front), a space in front of that bellies out toward the seating area. The seats are of a metallic blue-gray material with black hard plastic backs. Aisle carpeting is taupe with a thick barb wire pattern in white running through. Along with a main seating area, there are sets of box seats with nine seats on both sides near the front. Leg room is super-ample. Overall look: Inviting. Lakeside Hall is a literal name. Lake Michigan is a few hundred yards away.

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