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Booker High to stage ‘James and the Giant Peach’ Dec. 7-9

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James and the Giant Peach cast BHS Dec 2017

JUST PEACHY: The cast of the Booker High production of “James and the Giant Peach” includes, from left, Atticus Taylor, Rachel Rice, Todd Bellamy II, Danny Bó Delongaig, Emma Johnson, Vincent Pearson and Jonah Duchesne-Shaw.

SARASOTA, Dec. 1, 2017 – The Booker High School Visual & Performing Arts Theatre Department will present the beloved Roald Dahl children’s classic, “James and the Giant Peach,” as its winter musical. The show will run at 7 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 7-9, with a 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, at the Booker High School VPA Theatre, 3201 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota.

Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $5 for students. Tickets may be purchased in advance online at Patrons can get a free child’s ticket with the purchase of an adult ticket by entering the coupon code “peachy.”

Scott Keys directs, with musical direction by Johnnie Mnich, choreography by Cynthia Ashford, sets by Seth Berry and costumes by Heather Clarke. Music and lyrics are by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul.

Director Scott Keys said the theatre department chose “James” for its 2017-18 season because it is “a magical and whimsical story of discovery that is thematically connected through the idea of the thrill of the hunt and the excitement of the chase.” Keys said it’s a “kid-friendly” show that attracts a younger audience, and adds that it’s been a while since the department has done a show designed mostly for youth.

“We’re hoping to bring in a young, enthusiastic audience,” Keys said. “It’s important to instill an appreciation of quality theater in our youth, and we’d also like Sarasota parents and students to see Booker High VPA Theatre as a viable path for young artists.”

The department will host a school-time performance for local elementary students from Southside, Emma E. Booker, and Bay Haven schools at 10 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 7, at the Booker High VPA Theatre — the first school-time performance since the VPA presented “The Wiz” in 2013. Keys is excited to offer youngsters the opportunity to see a novel from the children’s classical canon unfold live before their eyes.

While “James and the Giant Peach” may tread on children’s territory for its storyline: a young orphan boy who is mistreated by his horrid adoptive aunts finds himself on a magical journey, along with giant insects, in an oversized peach. But staging the production is no child’s play. It requires the director, actors and technical crew to tackle enormous challenges, like creating the illusion that the fruit and its tenants are bobbing at sea, or being pulled away from a giant shark by a team of seagulls.

“The world that needs to be created on stage is really fun and creatively challenging,” Keys noted. “I’ve had fun playing with scale, from giant to miniature, in trying to bring the story to life.”

The show’s inherent creative challenges educational territory for the tech crew as well, and it has created an opportunity for collaboration and problem solving among departments. The school’s VPA Visual Art department has been tasked with building the gigantic shark puppet – to be animated by three student operators – and the interdepartmental collaboration is inspiring. It helps the students see the connections between different disciplines in a way that doesn’t come up in day-to-day instruction.

Aside from providing students with terrific challenges, bringing the musical to Booker High is an opportunity to perform music from the great songwriting team Pasek and Paul, whose musical “Dear Evan Hansen” is currently a Broadway phenomenon. Pasek and Paul have been critics’ darlings, securing the Best Song Oscar for “City of Stars” from “La La Land” and sweeping the Tony awards this year with “Dear Evan Hansen.”

“Performing music from one of the hottest contemporary songwriting teams is inspiring for the students and exciting for theater-goers,” said Mnich. 

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