“James and the Giant Peach” is larger than life in the Lees-McRae Theatre Arts production of the beloved children’s story by Roald Dahl

Full of exotic locations, unlikely heroes, and one enormous piece of fruit, the upcoming Lees-McRae Theatre Arts production of “James and the Giant Peach is a creative feat of unprecedented scale.

The musical, adapted from Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel of the same name by Timothy Allen McDonald and songwriting duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, will play in Hayes Auditorium on the college’s North Campus from Thursday, Feb. 23 through Sunday, Feb. 26.

While everyone can enjoy “James and the Giant Peach,the production will be catered to young audiences. The costumes and set design seek to harness the whimsicalness that made Dahl’s book a hit with generations of children

The original story follows James, a young boy who has come into the care of his two wicked aunts, Sponge and Spiker, following his parents’ untimely death. James’ world is gray and dull both emotionally, as he toils under his aunts’ cruel eyes, and physically, living in a world that lacks color and vibrancy. That is, until James discovers a giant peach and is set off on a journey of equally over-sized proportions. Befriending human-sized bugs along the way, James escapes his circumstances and finds himself in a world of magic and color.

Costumes, props, and set design are key to communicating this whimsy on stage, and these theatrical elements have been a focus of the faculty and student leaders behind the show’s production. Drawing inspiration from Quentin Blake’s original illustrations for the book, Assistant Professor of Performing Arts and set designer for the show Natalie Davies has envisioned a “pop-up book” style set that will illustrate each element of the tale as it unfolds. Floor-to-ceiling books, over-sized props, and layers of set pieces will make the story feel as if it is jumping right off the page and onto the stage.

“Everything that happens in the show needs to come from the set. The characters will go into each of these books and pull out elements to be able to help tell the story,” Davies said. “As the pop-up things happen in each scene, they’ll stay up so that way we can see this beautiful memory of the story and the journey that James has gone through.”

Costumes will be equally important in telling James’ story, particularly in illustrating the shift between the dreary world of his aunts and the magnificent world of the bugs inside the peach. Senior Musical Theatre major JoBeth Hilton, who is taking on a leadership role in the production’s costume design, hopes to communicate tone through clothing.

Sponge and Spiker will be adorned in black and white costumes that communicate the sadness of their world, while the bugs James befriends will be decked out in full-color costumes that illustrate their positive, fun-filled relationship with James. In the middle will be James. Hilton said that since James occupies both worlds, his costume will reflect both the gray mundanity of his aunts’ world, and the colorful liveliness of his life inside the peach.

“James will be in blues and neutral tones so that the watercolors still pop, but he’s a little more saturated so that he still stands out. Somewhere between our fun, magical world, and the grays and blacks of the aunties,” Hilton said.

Theatre lovers young and old will not want to miss this chance to set sail on a giant peach and travel alongside James and his bug friends across the Atlantic Ocean all the way to New York City.  

All showings of “James and the Giant Peach” are open to the public. Lees-McRae students, faculty, staff, and members of the local community are encouraged to bring the whole family out for a night of fun and adventure at the theatre. There will be two evening performances at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 23 and Friday, Feb. 24, and two matinee performances at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25 and Sunday Feb. 26. Tickets are $15 per person for adults, and $10 per person for children. Tickets for Lees-McRae students, faculty, and staff are free.

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By Maya JarrellJanuary 23, 2023
AcademicsCommunityCampus Life