Just as Georgia peaches are at their most delicious, a giant peach takes center stage at the Woodstock Arts Theatre. A musical adaptation of James and the Giant Peach, based on the story by Roald Dahl, begins July 13 for a two-week run, with a sensory-friendly performance on July 16. Woodstock Arts Artistic Director Zach Stolz joined City Lights hosting Lois Reitzes via Zoom alongside Sabrina Lloyd, director of James and the Giant Peach, to discuss the classic tale of finding family in friendship , and its successful musical adaptation.
Adaptation of a poignant story of an abused child:
“I think we have to start by just acknowledging that Dahl himself was probably a victim of abuse, because I don’t know how someone on the outside as an artist can understand it so accurately,” Lloyd said. “I don’t think he probably had proper help and that his art was probably his help… It’s one of his earlier works, so it’s a little rawer. It’s a little more unfiltered and uncommented. He’s processing instead of having processed things, and I think in trauma therapy they try to avoid things like forgive your abuser. You know, you don’t owe your abuser anything else. You can actually move forward, and I think that’s a very sophisticated and modern way of approaching trauma, and that’s what this story is about.”
“There’s a really interesting moment where – spoiler alerts, I suppose – James’ evil aunts leave the story, and they leave it for good,” Stolz said. “James turns to the bugs and says, ‘Am I supposed to be sad about that?’ And they give him permission not to be, to step away from his trauma and abuse and move forward. And every time I hear it in rehearsal it just takes my breath away… I think the creators of the musical really put the emphasis on the healing nature of “found family” and moving on from trauma is just that beautiful, poignant thing.”
On the less lovable aspects and beliefs of the esteemed author:
“These musicals, both ‘James and the Giant Peach’ and ‘Matilda,’ take these core layers of really fantastic child labor and become an adaptation. So they move past the hidden darknesses of racism, anti-Semitism and darker tones that don’t belong in history for us, while still sticking to what Sabrina and I talked a lot about when they first came on board came to start work It’s a story about trauma,” Stolz said. “It never appeals to a young audience. As a musical, as a play, it’s very inviting, and it’s very clear in terms of these heavier subjects it wants to talk about, but it’s been scrubbed by some of the really sickening story of Roald Dahl himself.”
A feast for the eyes with puppetry and otherworldly stage design:
“This show is very big. There are lists and lists and lists of characters that pop up for a second and then we never see them again, and a lot of those are puppets now. So we have a lot of stick puppets that are just stick puppets. We have some hand puppets; we have light puppets; We have shadow puppets. We have some spiders that are hand puppets. So we have a pretty wide range of ways we use our puppets and they all relate to James as an imaginative, maybe future writer, a reader in the moment. So we try to make most dolls look organic, like they’re straight out of a storybook,” Lloyd said.
She added, “[The crew] have a lot of fun. Our peach is slowly becoming this massive centerpiece and I think they’ll be painting it in a few days. So I am very excited about the end result.”
James and the Giant Peach is on stage at the Woodstock Arts Theater from July 13-27. Tickets and more information are available at woodstockarts.org/events/james-and-the-giant-peach.