Eleven students from Johnson County high schools are among 23 students chosen at the Kansas Thespian Conference for the cast of the premiere of “James and the Giant Peach,” a play they hope brings them national acclaim.
The musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s best-selling novel was created specifically for high school and community theater. The Kansas Thespians were granted exclusive rights to produce the first showing of the play. It runs at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 19 and at 2 p.m. Dec. 20 at Blue Valley Southwest high school, 17600 Quivira Road, Overland Park.
After the December Blue Valley shows, “James and the Giant Peach” moves to Wichita for the Kansas Thespian Conference Jan. 7-9 where it and four other high school productions will perform before a panel of judges. The plays are not in competition with each other but the judges determine which productions qualify for the International Thespian Festival in June in Lincoln, Neb.
“James and the Giant Peach” is co-directed by Max H. Brown, director of theater at Blue Valley North, and Dan Schmidt, director of theater at Blue Valley Southwest.
James is an orphaned child who finds a loving family in an unusual way. He is sent by his mean, conniving aunts to chop down their old peach tree. He discovers a magic potion that results in a huge peach occupied by not-so-normal characters whom he befriends and they decide to create a family of their own.
“James wants a home, a life of his own and a family. He has to overcome his fears and his reality to make the new life he wants,” Schmidt said. “That’s why we want our students to see and be part of this show at the state level in Wichita, and hopefully at the International Thespian Festival this spring in Lincoln, Nebraska.”
“We had the opportunity to choose the best of the best for our cast and crew members as well as to work with Tony-nominated songwriters Justin Paul and Benj Pasek and Timothy Allen McDonald, who wrote the high school version,” Schmidt said. “We all want to ‘find our way home.’ This show has the powerful music and unique theatricality to help us all do just that.”
McDonald has taken a special interest in the production. He flew in from New York in August to visit the directors and cast, observe rehearsals and teach a master class. He said he was a dyslexic student who hated reading.
“That all changed the day my teacher handed me a copy of ‘James and the Giant Peach,’ ” McDonald said. “It’s been very meaningful to me that people will be able to experience the very story which changed the course of my life.”
The cast was selected at auditions during the January 2015 Kansas Thespian Conference in Wichita, attended by about 1,500 students from 60 high schools throughout the state. More than 70 students auditioned for “James and the Giant Peach,” Schmidt said.
“Choosing the cast from so many very talented performers was difficult,” Schmidt said.
“Auditioning went late into the night,” Brown added, “well past midnight before we finished. We’ve always known there’s a lot of talent in Kansas high schools. Many are regular performers in community venues such as The Theatre in the Park as well as high school productions.”
“James and the Giant Peach” cast members and the schools they attend:
Blue Valley Southwest: Joann Armstrong, Paige Boomer, Brea Clemons, Austin Ragasun
Blue Valley Northwest: Tasia Jewell
Blue Valley North: Elie Laville, Alli Franken, Jacob Springer
Blue Valley West: Maggie Gallaway
Olathe South: Andrea Strickler and Veronica Wood
Leavenworth: Mason Frasher