ITHACA, N.Y. – Running to Places’ (R2P) production of “James and the Giant Peach” offers fun for parents as well as kids, in the classic Roald Dahl multi-layered tradition. The beloved story has been given new life with music composed by Pasek & Paul – the team that won an Oscar for creating “La La Land” and a Tony for “Dear Evan Hansen.” The show runs May 11-13 in the Trumansburg Elementary School Theatre,100 Whig St., Trumansburg.
The story follows young James (Elsbeth O’Toole), whose parents have been eaten by an escaped rhinoceros from the zoo. He’s forced to live with two horrible aunties, Spiker (Corinne Ford) and Sponge (Sophia Mras), as greedy as they are nasty.
Then, in a magical twist of fate overseen by Ladahlord (Kii Kinsella), a giant peach grows, and James ends up inside for the adventure of his life. The enlarged insects become his new family, with the ladybug (Daniel Lipson Copeland ) and grasshopper (Max Rubenstein-Miller) his surrogate parents; a hypochondriac earthworm (Skye Slattery) a crazy uncle, and the spider (Ariella Lindsley-Schutz) and centipede (Julian Speight ) his screwball siblings.
“The show will live forever in community theater because it’s the perfect family musical. Just like Dahl’s classic story, it never condescends to kids,” says R2P artistic director Joey Steinhagen. “And there’s enough mischief – and a little bit of darkness – for it to be thrilling.”
The story follows the classic trope of the suffering orphan who faces adversity and hopelessness until something magical happens and the adventure begins. “But there’s no cynicism in the show,” says Steinhagen, “nor is there any saccharine. The play says unambiguously that wonderful things do happen. While sometimes bad things happen to good people, the world is also filled with miraculous things, so there is always a reason to be hopeful and to look for joy in the world.”
The show was a “passion project” for the creators, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, says Steinhagen, with the hardest music of R2P’s season, sung by the youngest company members. (“James” is R2P’s middle school show, with the cast in grades 6-9). According to Jeremy Pletter, music director, the songs are rooted in complex jazz and are demanding to sing; one song requires tightly integrated 6-part jazz.
“The kids nail it,” says Pletter. “Their musicianship is superb. No one will believe there’s no one older than grade 9 in this.”
As a full-spectacle musical, the singing is paired with choreography by Harmony Malone, who most recently choreographed Ithaca High School’s “Hairspray.”
What Steinhagen calls “unusual theatricality” is built into the work of costume designer Liz Woods: not only extra legs for the giant insects but hand puppets as well.
Set designer Deb Drew has expanded student collaboration with this show:Oliver Jackson-Young designed the dilapidated house that the aunts live in, crooked angles and all. “It’s a two-dimensional flat that looks like it just popped out of a storybook,” says Steinhagen.
Other members of the design team include lighting designer Natty Simson sound designer Jordan Fearon, and prop master Janet Olsen.
The show is sponsored by Hilton Garden Inn & Kilpatrick’s Publick House, with scholarship level support from Buttermilk Falls Pediatrics, Cayuga Medical Center, and an anonymous fund at the Community Foundation of Tompkins County. Additional grant support is provided by Park Foundation, Triad Foundation, and is made possible in part with funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, administered by the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County, with season-long support from CSP Management.
“James and the Giant Peach” runs one weekend only: May 11-13, Friday and Saturday at 7 PM, Sunday at 2 PM. Tickets are $15 general admission; students and seniors $12, available on-line at www.runningtoplaces.org.
Perfomances will take place on Friday, May 11 at 7:00 p.m., Saturday, May 12 at 7:00 p.m., and Sunday, May 13 at 2:00 p.m.