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Bringing Life-Size Insects and a Seafaring Peach to the Stage

It was the musical score that led the director of the Amherst Middle School's annual musical, to choose "James and the Giant Peach, Jr." for this year's show.


"This musical was chosen because it is newly written and features music by up and coming composing duo, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the songwriting pair who received Oscar, Golden Globe and Tony awards for their work in the popular movie 'La La Land' and for their current hit Broadway musical, 'Dear Evan Hansen'," said Erin Scudder, an Amherst Middle School music teacher and the musical's director.


Lead cast of middle school musical "It is always a joy to direct the annual show at Amherst Middle School," said Scudder. "From the first rehearsal to the final performance, it is amazing to watch the journey that the students take as they develop their characters, learn their lines and musical numbers, and come together as a team of performers. I know the audience will love the story and characters featured in 'James and the Giant Peach, Jr.' "


The show tells the famous children's story written by Roald Dahl and features many opportunities for students to showcase their singing and acting talent. Student actors will create for their audience a believable fantasy world comprised of life-size insects, a seafaring peach, and an orphan boy longing for a loving home away from his two mean aunts.


"James and the Giant Peach, Jr." will be performed Friday, Jan. 19 at 9:15 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. at Amherst Middle School, 55 Kings Highway. Tickets are $6 per person.


All those attending the play are asked to bring one item for the Tiger's Den Food Pantry at St. Paul's Lutheran Church. This initiative will help build the supplies at the food pantry and ties in with the yearlong Tiger Cares Program instituted in all the ACSD schools. Items needed include boxed cereal, juice (bottle or boxes), cereal bars, cookies, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, flour, sugar, cooking oils, rice, canned fruit and vegetables, toilet paper.


For 125 students involved in the production, they face several challenges musically and artistically, as well as for the stage crew.


Consider some key story lines of the beloved classic story that has insect characters magically grow to human-size. Some student actors will be interacting with puppets. Special effects will have the character James pulled into the peach and have the peach land on the Empire State Building.


"Whether expressing a variety of emotions or performing syncopated melodic lines, students must work hard while singing the musical numbers in this production to tell the story and perform each piece accurately," said Scudder. "Additionally, some students are portraying multiple characters, requiring them to change not only their costume but also their persona at different points in the show."


Planning the scenery and costumes for the show were the most challenging aspects. Deciding how to feature the giant peach on stage and also how to create it most effectively took several weeks to plan, and even longer to construct.


"We have a great team with lots of artistic talent that brought our vision to life!" said Paul Biddle, an Amherst Middle School music teacher and the musical producer.