Tuesday, February 4, 2014

A Peach of a Production

Set design for James and the Giant Peach by Francois-Pierre Couture
The hero of our story is James Henry Trotter—a lonely nine-year-old orphan who has lived with his ghastly aunts, Sponge and Spiker, ever since his parents met their fate in the mouth of a rampaging rhinoceros. These crotchety old crones make poor James slave for them and never let him play with other children. One day, a mysterious stranger presents him with a bag of glowing green crocodile tongues—the strongest magic the world has ever known. When he accidentally spills them on the ground near the barren peach tree in his yard, the most marvelous things start to happen.

Centipede costume design by Angela Balogh Calin.
First, a luscious ripe peach suddenly appears on the shriveled-up tree and starts growing and growing till it’s as big as a house. Then, just as James is trying to sneak a quick bite, he finds his way into the center of the fruit, where he encounters a cadre of kid-sized insects who become his instant friends: cocky Centipede, grumpy Earthworm, musical Grasshopper, fashionable Ladybird, and industrious Spider. To escape his evil aunts, they snip the stem and the giant peach starts rolling away on a fantastic voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. Along the way, James finds his voice and becomes the head of the motley crew. All of his friends have special talents and James learns how to become a true leader—inspiring each of them to draw upon their strengths and function as a team. 

Director Casey Stangl is approaching David Wood’s adaptation in a way that emphasizes the humanity in the story. Angela Calin’s costumes anthropomorphize the insects, retaining a sense of the human actor beneath them to evoke the characters bug characteristics rather than literally displaying them. Francois-Pierre Couture’s set will feature the giant peach in all its glory, accompanied by Tom Ruzika’s lighting design and Peter Bayne’s sound design and additional compositions. The poems found within Dahl’s original are present and set to music by Josh Schmidt, with musical direction by Deborah Wicks La Puma. Director Stangl has also assembled a fantastic cast of SCR veterans—that happens to include two married couples! You can read more about the cast here.

Roald Dahl
Inspired by Dahl

The name Roald Dahl inspires fans from small children to their parents and grandparents. Many people have affectionate memories of squirreling away with a story or two, reveling in the magic and quirky fun.

Dahl’s work sometimes can be challenging for parents. He was never afraid to tackle dark subjects, often with children facing difficult (if not impossible) circumstances. Many of his protagonists lack caring parents (James is an orphan) and the adults charged with caring for them are antagonistic, if not downright horrible.

Many of Dahl’s stories have inspired adaptations in film, musicals, and even opera—much like this stage version of James and the Giant Peach—often with celebrities involved. Though Dahl declined many offers during his lifetime to have a film version of James and the Giant Peach produced, his widow, Liccy Dahl, approved an offer to have a film adaptation produced in conjunction with Disney in the mid-1990s, which was directed by Henry Selick and produced by Denise Di Novi and Tim Burton. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory has been given the film treatment several times—the first in 1971 with Gene Wilder and again in 2005 with Johnny Depp. The Witches was adapted in 1990 (the year Dahl passed away) starring Anjelica Huston.

The long list continues—and these are just the highlights! There’s a musical adaptation of Matilda that premiered in London in 2010 and is currently enjoying a successful run on Broadway. It’s actually the second time Matilda has been given musical treatment; the first was in 1990 and toured the UK. The Witches was adapted into an opera by Norwegian composer Marcus Paus. Fantastic Mr. Fox has been adapted into an Academy Award nominated film by director Wes Anderson. It was made using stop-motion animation and features the voices of George Clooney as Mr. Fox, Meryl Streep as Mrs. Fox, and Bill Murray as Badger. Tobias Picker adapted Fantastic Mr. Fox into an opera (the only adaptation with origins in the US) which had its world premiere at the Los Angeles Opera in 1998.

Roald Dahl continues to inspire artists today and there are several new projects in the works. Dustin Hoffman and Dame Judi Dench have been announced as starring in a BBC adaptation of Esio Trot. DreamWorks has announced that they’ve purchased the rights to adapt The BFG.

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