MUSICAL SYNOPSIS

As the story begins, we learn that James Henry Trotter has lost his parents in an accident involving a hungry rhino from the London Zoo. To further his misfortune, James has only two surviving relatives – his atrocious, pick-pocketing aunts Spiker and Sponge.

Though not a fan of children, the cruel and miserly aunts see James’ impending arrival as a source of income and free labor. The two women set James to work from morning to night. When they order him to chop down a peach tree in their front yard, James uncovers a book of magic potions.

James mixes the potion -and when he accidentally drops it by the tree- a tremendous peach grows. Upon discovering the novelty, the aunts seize the opportunity for yet another money-grab and receive celebrity status from the giant peach. Ordered to guard the peach, James spies a mysterious doorknob. He enters the fruit and encounters an interesting cast of human-sized insects, some of whom want to eat him.

Personalities emerge ranging from the pessimistic and threatening Centipede, the proper and nurturing Ladybug, the wise and fatherly Grasshopper, the helpful, yet vilified Spider and the gloomy Earthworm. As objectives collide and arguments commence, the group jockeys for space and the peach falls off the tree and rolls into the ocean.

At sea, they are launched on an epic, harrowing adventure. Realizing they must learn to work together and be resourceful, James leads the eclectic group with clever and creative problem-solving. For example, when hungry, they nibble away at the peach while remaining careful to leave enough to keep it afloat. When sharks attack the peach with a taste for its inhabitants, the crew lassos many spiderwebs around hundreds of seagulls necks to lift their peach out of the ocean and harm’s way.

Meanwhile, fearing retribution from the cash advances they received for peach publicity that never came to “fruition,” the mean aunts flee on a first-class cruise to New York. Things come to a head when James and the insects and the aunts disembark in New York and confront each other.

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THE MUSICAL

Felcitiy “Liccy” Dahl (Roald Dahl’s widow) granted playwright Timothy Allen McDonald the rights to develop a musical version of James and the Giant Peach, following McDonald and co-adaptor Leslie Bricusse’s successful development of Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka as a musical. Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka features music from the 1971 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder.

In 2005 McDonald began building the team for Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach. The first task was finding the perfect songwriting partners who would be as obsessed with the opportunity to create a world in which parents are eaten by a rhino, a peach grows, floats and flies and anthropomorphized insects sing.

In the fall of 2008, Tony-winning lyricist Lynn Ahrens called McDonald to suggest the up-and-coming songwriting team Pasek and Paul for the task.Then McDonald received a phone call from theater impresario and Music Theatre International Chairman and CEO Freddie Gershon also recommending Pasek and Paul. Soon McDonald was talking with ASCAP/BMI’s Director of Musical Theater Michael Kerker, who also asserted the songwriting duo would be perfect for the show.

McDonald met with Pasek and Paul and presented them with three potential moments from Dahl’s book to musicalize. Less than a week later, Pasek and Paul returned to McDonald with potential songs, including James’ first solo “On Your Way Home” and “Property of Spiker and Sponge.” McDonald had found the perfect collaborators.

After a workshop production in 2010, McDonald, Pasek and Paul regrouped and rewrote the show. This new version debuted at the Kennedy Center’s prestigious “New Visions New Voices” festival in 2012 and was a festival favorite. Seattle Children’s Theatre’s Artistic Director Linda Hartzell promptly scheduled the show for SCT’s 2013-2014 season.

Seattle Children’s Theatre presented the world premiere of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach under the direction of Linda Hartzell. The show opened on November 21, 2013 and was both a critical and financial success.

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THE BOOK

James and the Giant Peach was Roald Dahl’s first classic novel for children. Although The Gremlins is sometimes referred to as an earlier example of his writing for children, James was Dahl’s first conscious attempt to write for a younger audience after several years of writing primarily adult short stories.

Dahl started writing James and the Giant Peach in 1959 after encouragement from his agent, Sheila St Lawrence. In the orchard at Dahl’s home there was a cherry tree. Seeing this tree made him wonder: what if, one day, one of those cherries just kept on and on growing bigger and bigger? From giant cherries Dahl also considered ever-increasing pears and even apples, but eventually settled on a giant peach as the method for James’ magical journey.

The book was first published in 1961 to glowing reviews and marked the beginning of Dahl’s prolific career as a children’s author.
Listen to Roald Dahl talk about his idea for James and the Giant Peach

[excerpted from: roalddahl.com]

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