Original melodies and more than 80 rod puppets will help the Rose Theater bring “James and the Giant Peach” to life, starting Friday.
The fantastical story, based on the classic 1961 children's book by Roald Dahl, centers on James, an English orphan who lives with his horrible aunts on a high, isolated hill. An old man gives James a recipe for a magic potion that will bring him happiness.
James spills the ingredients on a barren peach tree, which grows a giant peach bigger than his house. He has a wild, surreal adventure with six insects he meets inside the peach's pit.
Susann Suprenant, who is directing the show, said the script calls for a very large cast or perhaps a children's chorus. Instead, she and props master Ronnie Wells Jr. chose puppets to help tell the story while cutting down on costs and cast size.
“The story is so elaborate, you just can't do everything with a full-scale peach,” Wells said.
Puppets will be used as schools of fish, flocks of seagulls, sharks, a centipede, a giant octopus and even the giant peach at times, Wells said.
Suprenant, whose speciality is onstage movement, cast dancers to control and manipulate many of the puppets. Some are made of carved foam, covered with muslin and painted.
Wells, who took a class in puppetry at the University of Northern Iowa, said puppetry is often used to help kids understand a story and to interact with them.
“It's a collaborative process,” he said. “The scenic designer drew up sketches of what they might look like, and I interpreted those.”
While actors will play James and the giant insects, Suprenant said, the puppets will play dangerous forces that must be overcome.
Suprenant hired music director Satid Kippenberger to compose an original score, which will be pre-recorded. He created the score by setting many of the rhyming passages in the script to music.
The show matches the kind of imaginative, mixed-media stage work Suprenant and Kippenberger have been working on together for aetherplough, an avant-garde troupe founded in 2008.
Suprenant said Dahl believed children see good and bad in very black-white terms, so he made his villains very villainous indeed. The show is recommended for ages 8 and older.
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