Stone Bridge High School
With futuristic steampunk apparel and charismatic creepy-crawlers, Oakcrest School’s production of James and the Giant Peach brought Roald Dahl’s beloved tale to life with a “specmagical” blend of creativity, heartache, and whimsy.
James and the Giant Peach, originally penned by Roald Dahl in 1961, was adapted into a musical by Timothy McDonald, with the assistance of lyricists Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The show follows the orphaned James Henry Trotter, who is left isolated and hopeless after being placed in the care of his vile aunts, Spiker and Sponge. However, following a bizarre incident involving crawling crocodile tongues and a magically magnified fruit, James discovers for himself that family isn’t always who you share a bloodline with, but who you open your heart to (be they gigantic talking insects or not).
From the moment light descended upon the stage, Megan Meehan (as Ladahlord) was the perfect host to the audience, leaping, singing, and displaying her excellent comedic timing with every facial expression and movement.
Being an all-female school, Oakcrest was tasked with the challenge of filling typically male roles, and they handled it with ease. As James, Elizabeth Eckel expertly captured the persona of a young boy with her high-pitched tone and clear longing for an emotional connection with other characters. Furthermore, Claire McLaughlin embraced the male role of Centipede and frequently provided a welcome contrast to the female ensemble with her low, purposefully gruff voice.
The other residents of the peach were just as devoted in their characterizations, from Eli Crishock’s tireless advocacy for earthworm rights and exuberant dancing as seagull bait during “Plump and Juicy,” to Grace McGovern and Meredith Klote in their sweetly parental portrayals of Ladybug and Grasshopper, respectively.
However, the more genuine performances were starkly contrasted by Katiebelle Thompson’s portrayal of the sharp and cynical Spiker, and Devon Bogucki as the idiotic, food-loving Sponge. Despite playing detestable characters, the duo played off each other hilariously and ensured that each moment they spent on stage was memorable.
Although the show took place in a nearby venue, not Oakcrest High School itself, the cast and crew did not allow any time or technology constraints to phase them. The set (by Alydia Ullman, Magda Smith, Angela Diaz-Bonilla, and Falan Kifle) utilized rotating triangular periactoids, which maintained a consistent color scheme and allowed a smooth transition from different landscapes, ranging from the ocean to the New York City skyline. To the left of the main set, flashcards displaying the current location dangled from a metal post to further clarify the location in each scene and provide a brief comedic moment during scenery changes.
Beyond the set, each character’s costume (designed by Grace McGovern, Sophia Miller, and Emma Myers) was styled so that the audience could easily distinguish what they were supposed to be-- a particularly important detail in a show full of insects. Additionally, the steampunk style of their outfits, as exemplified by features such as goggles and metallically adorned top hats, provided a fresh and innovative take on the typical Victorian clothing of the show.
Overall, the cast of James and the Giant Peach bulldozed every obstacle in their path to create a production which displayed each performer’s unique strengths, while simultaneously conveying an extremely important message: sometimes, becoming a stronger and more courageous person is a matter of surrounding yourself with those who care for your wellbeing.
Chantilly High School
A peach growing to the size of a house, carrying a young boy and five giant bugs across the Atlantic Ocean might sound like the wildest fantasies of a small child, but it serves as a reflection of the complexity of humanity’s relationships. Bringing to life the exuberant characters of Roald Dahl’s absurd classic, Oakcrest School’s production of James and the Giant Peach teaches us that the family we choose throughout life is stronger than any bond made by blood relations.
The stage adaptation (by Timothy Allen McDonald) of James and the Giant Peach is based on Roald Dahl’s children’s book of the same name, originally published in 1961. The musical, which began its off-broadway run in Connecticut in 2010, features a score by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.
Set in Dover, England, orphaned James Trotter is placed in the care of his two malevolent aunts, Spiker and Sponge. James spills a magic potion on a dead tree where a giant peach begins to grow. Weary of his aunts trying to exploit him and his fruit for their own gain, James climbs into the peach only to discover five fully-grown bugs inside; also tired of Spiker and Sponge’s antics, the bugs and James cut the fruit from the tree, promptly rolling into the sea, embarking on a sea voyage.
The timid James (Elizabeth Eckel) struggles with coping with his parents’ death. Eckel’s younger mannerisms and soprano voice allow her to develop the character before the audience’s eyes effortlessly, adding nuance to the beloved character. Peaking during “On Your Way Home,” Eckel perfectly captures the intricate balance between the longing for freedom James feels and his grief. Alongside James, stands the magical, effervescent Ladahlord (Megan Meehan). Acting as a narrator, Meehan masterfully exists between both the real world and the magnificent realm of the peach. Through flamboyant physicality and a hearty, soulful voice highlighted in “Right Before Your Eyes,” Meehan bewitched the hearts and minds of the audience.
The performance, however, would not be complete without the charming band of bugs that take James under their wings: elegant Ladybug, musician Grasshopper, curmudgeon Centipede, compassionate Spider, and worrisome Earthworm. The dynamic between the ensemble of bugs became the focal point of the show, each member effectively establishing different and complex relationships between one another. However, the nervous-nelly Earthworm (Eli Crishock) stole the spotlight. Through her nervous mannerisms evolving throughout the voyage, Crishock perfectly captured Earthworm’s arc in her phenomenal song “Plump and Juicy.” With her excellent physicality, Crishock also displayed perfect comedic timing, leaving the audience in stitches every time she appeared on stage.
Adding to the whimsical air, the technical elements immersed the audience in James’ world masterfully. Van Gogh-esque painted periaktois were utilized beautifully and showed stark contrasts between the drab yard of Spiker and Sponge, the oceanic voyage, and New York City’s iconic skyline. The detail-oriented use of steampunk costumes resounded throughout the show, most prominently through the symbolism used in the bug’s costumes to signify their role in James’ life, like Ladybug wearing a red scarf like that of his late mother’s.
Not only did Oakcrest’s production of James and the Giant Peach astonish audiences with capricious technical elements and stunning performances, but it also taught us that family is not only found in our relatives but rather in our friends that stand with us, because “great things always start small,” making the performance one for the books.