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Bugs are heroes in James and the Giant Peach

By Eric E. Harrison

This article was published April 25, 2013 at 3:03 a.m.


Just peachy: Garrett Flood (left) plays Old Green Grasshopper, Jeffrey Oakley plays James and Jhonika Wright plays Ladybird in James and the Giant Peach at the Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre.

The Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre’s new production involves a battle between aunts and bugs. And audiences will likely be rooting for the bugs.

In James and the Giant Peach, opening Friday at the Arts Center in Little Rock’s MacArthur Park, the title character discovers that his new friends, a handful of creepy-crawlies who have been magically colossal-ized along with the fruit that is their home, display a lot more humanity than his gruesome guardians.

You’ll be able to see James (Jeffrey Oakley), his unpleasant aunts (Mark Hansen as Aunt Spiker and Aleigha Morton as Aunt Sponge) and the multi-legged creatures - Garrett Flood as Old Green Grasshopper, Anna Tess Frost as Spider, Jeremy Matthey as Centipede, Jhonika Wright as Ladybird and Cassandra Nary as Earthworm. But, says stage manager Sinovia Mayfield, you may have to stretch your imagination a little to see the title fruit.

“It’s more of a metaphorical peach,” she explains, noting that via a lot of shadow play on the part of director and scenic designer Alan Keith Smith and lighting designer Penelope Poppers, “you’ll see the shape of a peach, and get the feel of a peach.”

Smith does a lot of the script adaptations for Children’s Theatre shows, but this one came in ready-made: David Wood penned it, based on the classic by Roald Dahl.

Oakley, a seventh-grader at LISA Academy North who made his children’s theater debut as Philip, one of the human characters in City Mouse, Country Mouse, Christmas House in December, says he was familiar with the story, though not necessarily Dahl’s book, before he took on the role.

“I watched the [part-live, part-animated] movie the day of the auditions,” he explains. He’s since become a Dahl fan: “It took some imagination to make this up.” And he doesn’t mind that he doesn’t yet get to don a creature costume for this show. “It doesn’t really matter that much to me - it’s just important that I get to act.”

Wright, who also appeared as Aunt Mel in City Mouse, Country Mouse, Christmas House, is delighted with her split-cape, black-on-red ladybird (or ladybug, as it’s more popularly known) costume (designed by Erin Larkin). “And I get to sing a song about [James’] nasty aunts.”

Flood, wrapping up a Children’s Theatre season in which he appeared in Madeline and the Gypsies, the mouse play and Bunnicula, says this was the “one show I was looking forward to more than anything.”

He says his grasshopper character is indeed the wisest of the five bugs, but perhaps not the wisest character on stage: “To the insects, I have the most intellect, but it’s always James that has all the answers.”

James and the Giant Peach

7 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through May 12, Arkansas Arts Center Children’s Theatre, Arkansas Arts Center, MacArthur Park, 10th and Commerce streets, Little Rock

Sponsors: Landers Fiat, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield

Tickets: $12

(501) 372-4000; (800) 264-2787

Weekend, Pages 34 on 04/25/2013

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