The Rockaway Theater Company’s (RTC) Young People’s Workshop has yet again produced another musical, showcasing the talents of local children from the peninsula. Because of such high enrollment for the workshop, RTC’s directors decided it would be best to show off the unbelievable talent these children possess, by splitting the group of youngsters into two groups based on age, creating two fabulous shows. This past Thursday, February 6, the youngest of the bunch, ages six to thirteen, opened their performance of Roald Dahl’s, “James and the Giant Peach, Jr.” on the main stage.
“James and the Giant Peach,” written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, is based on Roald Dahl’s famous children’s book originally written in 1961. The plot revolves around main character, James, who is forced to live with his two malicious aunts upon becoming an orphan. Instead of caring for the young boy, his aunts, Spiker and Sponge, force James to do all of the labor around the house. Longing for a life full of adventure, James meets a mysterious man, Ladahlord, who gives him magic beans, claiming they could fulfill James’ desire. Clumsily, James spills the magic beans on a peach tree, producing a single peach that suddenly grows to the size of a house. When Spiker and Sponge see the ginormous peach in their backyard, they selfishly lock James away, in efforts to exploit the peach for their own benefit. However, nothing can keep the curious boy from finding a tunnel and entering the giant peach. While inside the peach, James meets a variety of insects that quickly become his new “family,” as they encounter numerous adventures. Although James has encountered so much misfortune in his short life, the play concludes with James living happily ever after with his new found “family.”
In order to showcase all of the children’s talents to the best of their abilities, directors, Susan Warren Corning, Jodee Timpone, Richard Louis-Pierre, and Gabrielle Mangano, made the executive decision to double cast all of the parts, creating the ‘James’ cast and the ‘Peach’ cast. By double casting the show, many more children were able to showcase what they have learned throughout the past few months in front of their friends and family. Because the number one priority of the workshop is to teach young kids about performing arts, the directors had alumni from the “Bye Bye Birdie, Jr.” cast help as stage hands. Whether it be helping with the music, lighting, or changing of the sets, the teens of the older group not only learned more about the backstage life of a production, but they also served as role models for the younger actors. The directors’ continuous efforts certainly do not go unnoticed, as clearly proven by both groups of the children’s workshop.
This past weekend, The Rockaway Times had the pleasure of seeing the ‘James’ cast, which was without a doubt loaded with talent, even with many of the kids making their stage debut for the very first time. Mary Claire Smyth, who plays the role of Ladahlord, opened the show with her strong vocals, demanding the audience’s attention before the curtain revealed the colorful and bright set. Smyth spoke so clearly and articulately, her energy captivated the stage. Equally captivating, was Emily O’Connor, who played the lead role, James. O’Connor was presented with a difficult task, due to the fact she had to play a boy, but she certainly pulled it off. O’Connor’s dedication to the role was evident, and her lively personality was so refreshing to see on stage. Throughout the big group numbers, which were choreographed by Gabrielle Mangano, the kids wore colorful costumes that certainly paid homage to Roald Dahl himself. All of the kids danced in sync, while letting their individual personalities shine. It’s very clear that Mangano used her know-how to create dance steps that highlighted all of the children’s skills.
However, it wasn’t just their dancing abilities that contributed to such a fantastic production, but it was also the delivery of their lines and songs that blew the audience away. Throughout the entire performance, not one of the youngsters forgot their lines. Some of these kids haven’t even hit double digits yet! All that time and effort spent during rehearsals had really paid off. The kids were also challenged with singing songs consisting of harmonies and rounds, which may seem difficult for children of such young ages, but to the children of the workshop it was a challenge they overcame with ease.
All in all, the performance is wonderful, and it truly shows the talents of local youth actors and the lessons being taught through RTC’s Young People’s Workshop. There are still plenty of opportunities to see it for yourself. There are performances on February 13, 14 and 15 at 7 p.m. and February 15 and 16 at 2 p.m. For tickets or more info, head to www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org
By Marina Cregan
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