Tri-State Theater

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

First Stage Theatre to present Dahl's 'James and the Giant Peach'

I've been swamped this week helping out with the production of James and the Giant Peach (which starts tomorrow night), but my pal Dave Lavender wrote an excellent story about the show for today's edition of the Herald-Dispatch.

(I should warn you that you'll run into quotes from me in there.)

Here 'tis:
Even though First Stage Theatre Company is heading into its 21st season, somehow it had never dug into the deliciously dark world of British writer Roald Dahl.

Scratch that now. The Tri-State's children's theater, an all-star troupe of sorts that features some of the region's best child actors from high school age to grade school, is dipping into some Dahl with the fantastic adventures of James and the Giant Peach.

Directed by prolific playwright Jon Joy, who directed an original piece (First Day of Summer) earlier this year for First Stage, James and the Giant Peach, will be staged at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Sept. 24-25, as well as 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 26.

Starring more than 30 actors from around the region, the show will also run next weekend, Oct. 1-3, at the Huntington High Renaissance Center, 900 8th St.

First published in 1961, but perhaps best known in the United States in its 1996 incarnation as a Disney blockbuster, James and the Giant Peach tells the story of James, a young boy, who escapes to the magical city of New York from his wicked aunts in quite a fantastical way. A mysterious old man gives James a bag of magic, glowing crocodile tongues, which he spills onto a barren peach tree. A peach appears and then grows to monster proportions. James then climbs inside, and with the help of some giant insect friends they make their way through several adventures as they try to find a new home.

Tickets are $10 and $8 for children 12 and under.

Chuck Minsker, one of the long-time First Stage board members, said they'd kicked around the idea of doing Willy Wonka for years, but that this happens to be the first piece they've done of Dahl's who also penned, Fantastic Mr. Fox, which was made into a movie last year.

Minsker, whose sons Evan and Justin grew up in the First Stage, said the high-quality children's theater has a great reputation built through seasons of tackling such difficult shows as Peter Pan, Les Miserables, Cats, and other shows not necessarily known as children's fare.

"That is the beauty of this children's theater is that people think it's going to be a bunch of little kids mumbling through a show but it is amazing the talent of these young performers, and we are proud to give so many of them their first show," Minsker said. "Any adult not familiar with First Stage is always amazed at the quality. That is part of it, we really draw kids from all over the Tri-State and so you are getting the best actors from all over the place, and it is amazing to me to see all of that talent coming together on stage. It really is impressive."

Although several actors who grew up in First Stage have come back to direct and help out from Justin and Travis McElroy to Justin Minsker, Joy happens to be the first of that next generation of actors who grew up on the stage, to be a board member for First Stage.

Minsker said this show kicks off the first of three shows this season for First Stage. Other upcoming shows will include Once Upon a Mattress at the Renaissance Theater in November and Rugrats -- A Live Adventure! in March 2011 at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center.

For more information, call 304-416-KIDS (304-416-5437) or visit the website at www.FirstStageTheatre.org.

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