I don’t get out to Peoria for Theater Works productions nearly as often as I’d like to because it feels too far a drive for those of us who get overwhelmed by guilt enjoying more than ten minutes of down time.
Those who live in the Northwest Valley are fortunate to have this theater company so close to home. Parents in other parts of the Valley who are free of my many hang-ups (which is most of you) will find it well worth the drive.
Theater Works performs at the modestly-sized but perfectly polished Peoria Center for the Performing Arts, as does their youth theater company Youth Works.
Upcoming shows include “Chicago” (Theater Works), “Footloose” (Youth Works) and “Winnie the Pooh” (Youth Works). Theater Works also offers workshops, camps and various special events throughout the season.
I attended the opening performance of “James and the Giant Peach” last weekend. It’s being performed through Feb 20 in the venue’s small “black box” theater.
I love intimate venues for works performed for children, because audience members are close to the action — making it easier for little ones to stay attentive and really feel a part of the show.
The story takes place in and around a giant peach-shaped set piece — which turns fairly often as lights go down and scene changes occur. It’s simple but well-suited to the tale.
I also loved the costumes. Dresses with rich-looking fabrics for the comical pair of aunts who pick on James nearly non-stop. Headgear for the earthworm who helps to save the day when sharks cross paths with the floating peach.
Even fun tights and funky hats. Thumbs up as well for hair and make-up design. It’s clear that all involved are thrilled to be playing with the ”steam punk” vibe.
Part of the show’s charm comes late in the second act (there’s one intermission) when James and his crew invite audience members to come up and feel the giant peach. This is fun wth fruit at its finest. Sit in the front row if you’re game.
There’s a benefit to sitting in the back rows as well, which seem to allow for easier viewing of a small screen over the performance area (there is no raised stage for this production). The screen features puppetry mirroring much of the action of the play.
It’s clearly a talented cast — which includes two pairs of siblings (one homeschooled). Some are longtime Youth Works actors, while others are making their first appearance on stage.
It’s always refreshing to find a cast that combines actors with various backgrounds and experience levels. Based on what I saw of the cast after the show, it’s a caring and cohesive bunch — something that’s ever so important for children just venturing into the performing arts.
Outside of Theater Works, these kids are involved in all sorts of things — including the Junior Thespian Society, choral performance, Irish step dancing, student council and much more.
“James and the Giant Peach,” adapted by David Wood, is based on the Roald Dahl book of the same name. The Theater Works production is directed by Chris Hamby.
Read the book. See the play. Then encourage your children to create their own giant adventures. And just this once, let them play with their fruit.
Note: Visit www.lillyarts.com to enjoy more work by artist Lilly Fluger
Coming up: Channeling J-Lo?, In the doghouse, Tales of a ten year old, Lucky #13?