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James and the Giant Peach
James and the Giant Peach is a popular children's novel written in 1961 by British author Roald Dahl. The original first edition published by Alfred Knopf featured illustrations by Nancy Ekholm Burkert. There have been reillustrated versions of it over the years, done by Michael Simeon for the first British edition, Emma Chichester Clark, Lane Smith and Quentin Blake. It was adapted into a film of the same name in 1996.
The plot centres on a young English orphan boy who enters a gigantic, magical peach, and has a wild and surreal cross-world adventure with seven magically-altered garden bugs he meets. They set off on a journey to escape from James' two mean and cruel aunts. Roald Dahl was originally going to write about a giant cherry, but changed it to James and the Giant Peach because a peach is "prettier, bigger and squishier than a cherry."
Because of the story's occasional macabre and potentially frightening content, it has become a regular target of the censors. The actors Jeremy Irons, Andrew Sachs, and Julian Rhind-Tutt provide the English language audiobook recordings.
Four-year-old James Henry Trotter lives with his loving parents in a beautiful cottage by the sea in the south of England, until his parents are killed by an escaped rhinoceros during a shopping trip in London.
As a result, James is forced to live with his two cruel aunts, Spiker and Sponge, in a run-down house on a high, desolate hill near the White Cliffs of Dover. For four years, James is treated as a drudge, forced to do hard labor, beaten for hardly any reason, improperly fed, and forced to sleep on bare floorboards in the attic. One summer afternoon, after a particularly upsetting altercation with his aunts, James stumbles across a mysterious stranger, who gives him magic green "crocodile tongues" which, when drunk with water, will bring him happiness and great adventures. On the way to the house, James spills the crocodile tongues onto a barren peach tree, which then produces a single peach that quickly grows to nearly the size of a house. The next day, the aunts sell tickets to neighbors and tourists to see the giant peach while James watches from the window of his room in which he is locked up, to prevent him from getting in the way of his aunts' business.
When night comes, the aunts release James and send him to collect rubbish discarded by the crowd. James went taking a closer look at the giant peach, but he discovers a tunnel, which leads to secret room inside the peach's seed, inhabited by a rag-tag band of human-sized, talking invertebrates (an old green grasshopper, centipede, earthworm, spider, ladybug, silkworm, and a glowworm), also transformed by the magic of the crocodile tongues given him earlier. These bugs then become James' companions in his adventure, and the companionship is prompted by a common hatred of the aunts. Upon James' arrival, the Centipede bites through the stem of the peach, whereupon it rolls down the hill early next morning, crushing and killing Spiker and Sponge on the way. Everyone inside the peach feels it rolling over the aunts and bursts out cheering. It rolls through villages, houses, and a famous chocolate factory before falling off the cliffs of Dover into the sea. James and the bugs emerge to find themselves floating in the sea but manage to sustain themselves on the delicious flesh of the peach. Hours later, near the Azores, the peach is surrounded by sharks. Using the Earthworm as bait, James and the others of the peach lure five hundred seagulls to the peach from the nearby islands, which they tie to the broken stem as a source of flight.
Now airborne, the peach crosses the Atlantic Ocean. At one incident, the Centipede entertains the others with ribald dirges to Sponge and Spiker, but in his excitement, he falls into the ocean and is rescued by James. That night, thousands of feet in the air, the giant peach floats through mountain-like, moonlit clouds, where the bugs and James discover the ghostly "Cloud-Men", who control the weather. As the Cloud-Men form hailstones to throw down to the world below, the Centipede insults them, and an army of Cloud-Men pelt the giant peach with hail. They escape and then encounter a rainbow which they smash through. One Cloud-Man pours a tin of "rainbow paint" onto the Centipede, briefly turning him into a statue before he is freed by a Cloud-Man who pours water on him. One Cloud-Man almost boards the peach by climbing down the silken strings tied to the stem, which the Centipede severs to release him. Thereafter, James and the bugs approach New York City; whereupon the military, police, fire department, and rescue services are all called, and people flee to air raid shelters and subway stations, believing the city is about to be destroyed.
A huge passenger jet flies past the giant peach and severs the silken strings connecting the seagulls to the peach, which is then impaled upon the tip of the Empire State Building. The people on the 86th floor at first believe the inhabitants of the giant peach to be monsters or extraterrestrials; but when James appears and explains his story, the people hail James and his friends as heroes. The remains of the giant peach are brought down to the streets, where it is consumed by the town's children, and its seed is established as a mansion in Central Park, where James lives, while his friends establish careers in the human world. In conclusion, James is said to have written the preceding story.
References in the book to other Roald Dahl works
James and the Giant Peach possibly references Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in the beginning and end of the novel (although its copyright date is three years earlier). When the peach rolls off the tree, it rolls through a "famous chocolate factory": a reference to Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. Towards the end of the book, people in New York City identify the protagonists, incorrectly, as Whangdoodles, Snozzwangers, Hornswogglers, or Vermicious Knids. All of those animals (except the last) are mentioned by Willy Wonka as predators of the Oompa-Loompas; and Vermicious Knids feature in the sequel book, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, when they try to link up with the Space Hotel U.S.A. It also references "the BFG" in the end of the novel: on the last page, James writes a recount of his adventure (the illustration shows him smiling with a book in his hands). This is also how the BFG ended. In both cases, the recounted stories are purported to be the books themselves .
Though Roald Dahl declined numerous offers during his lifetime to have a film version of James and the Giant Peach produced, his widow, Liccy Dahl, approved an offer to have a film adaptation produced in conjunction with Disney in the mid-1990s. It was directed by Henry Selick and produced by Denise Di Novi and Tim Burton, both of whom previously produced The Nightmare Before Christmas. The movie consists of live action and stop-motion to reduce production finances. It was narrated by Pete Postlethwaite (who also played the wizard). The film was released on 12 April 1996.
There are numerous changes in both the plot of the film and the plot of the book, though the film was generally well received. Liccy Dahl said that, "I think Roald would have been delighted with what they did with James." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly gave the film a positive review, praising the animated part, but calling the live-action segments "crude." The movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Musical or Comedy Score (by Randy Newman). It won Best Animated Feature Film at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival. In August 2016, Sam Mendes was revealed to be in negotiations with Disney to direct another live action adaptation of the novel. In May 2017, however, Mendes was no longer attached to the project due to him entering talks with Disney about directing a live-action film adaptation of Pinocchio.
After Timothy Allen McDonald and Leslie Bricusse successfully developed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory into a musical, using songs from the 1971 film adaptation, Dahl's widow Liccy granted the rights to develop James and the Giant Peach to McDonald. McDonald started assembling the creative team in 2005. Lynn Ahrens, Freddie Gershon and Michael Kerker recommended the songwriting team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul in 2008. After an audition where Pasek and Paul wrote three potential songs in a week, including two that would be worked into the show (James's first solo, "On Your Way Home" and "Property of Spiker and Sponge"), McDonald hired the duo.
The musical premiered from 21 October 2010 to 21 November 2010 at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Connecticut. The musical itself was quite different from its source material, but honored it. Throughout the two-month run, the show was revised. The cast featured young actors Ellis Gage and Justin Lawrence Hall playing James, Steve Rosen as Marvo The Magician, Ruth Gotschall as Aunt Spiker and Denny Dillon as Aunt Sponge. The show also featured Jim Stanek as the Grasshopper, Chelsea Packard (credited as Chelsea Krombach) as the Ladybug, Kate Wetherhead as the Spider, Destan Owens as the Earthworm, Nick Gaswirth as the Centipede, also with Nicholas Park, Minami Yusi, Marissa Palley, and Jessica Fontana (credited as Jessica Hershberg) in the Ensemble. The dance troupe "Pilobolus" were a large part of the production bringing an innovative theatrical technique of using their bodies to create most of the set, specifically using shadow technique to create a majority of the special effects. The production featured musical direction by Chris Fenwick and Dance arrangements by Sam Davis. Pasek and Paul stated during the Goodspeed staging "we decided from the beginning that we were not writing a show for children [...] we are taking some of Dahl's darkness and expanding it even more."
2012 Kennedy Center
A work-in-progress version of the musical played at the 2012 New Visions/New Voices festival, held at the Kennedy Center in May 2012 for plays in development written for young audiences. The 2012 Kennedy Center production was directed by Marty Johnson and Timothy Allen McDonald.
In November 2013, a reworked version of the musical was presented at the Seattle Children's Theatre. After the 2010 production, the show underwent much revision, altering plot aspects and songs to appeal to a younger audience, the most notable of which were the omitting of its former title song, "Perfectly Perfect", and the discontinuation of the use of "Pilobolus". Also, the character of Marvo, who, at times, was the narrator, is gone, and the introduction of "sophisticated" and "innovative" puppetry to depict some events, "including the show's title character, the Giant Peach." The set was also more elaborate than at Goodspeed.
Justin Paul said of the revised version: "It's certainly changed — and hopefully evolved — since we [premiered] the show at Goodspeed. Obviously, that was the first time we'd ever seen the show in front of an audience, so we learned a lot just from that… Now, we sort of put [a different] lens on it and said, 'It needs to be a show that is going to be engaging a young audience — targeted for all ages,' [...]"
Mike Spee, an adult, played James, Kendra Kassebaum played the Ladybug, and Julie Briskman and Jayne Muirhead played Sponge and Spiker, respectively. The cast also featured Rich Gray as Centipede, Heath Saunders as Earthworm, Greg McCormick Allen as Grasshopper, Diana Huey as Spider, with Vickielee Wohlbach, Ian Lindsay and Auston James in the Ensemble.
In 2014, the musical made its Canadian premiere at the Young People's Theatre in Toronto, Ontario. Directed by Sue Miner, choreographed by Jen Shuber and musically directed by Jason Jestadt, it featured Alessandro Constantini as James, Lana Carillo as Ladybug, Saccha Dennis as Spider, Stewart Adam McKensy as Grasshopper, Jacob MacInnis as Earthworm, Dale Miller as Centipede, Nicole Robert as Spiker and Karen Wood as Sponge. The show was adapted into James and The Giant Peach Jr., meant for actors ages 8-18. Its premiere was 14 October 2016, at the Kum & Go Theater in Des Moines, Iowa.
* In the Connecticut Pre-Broadway production, the role of "Ladahlord" existed as "Marvo The Magician". Both characters served as partial narrators.
A cast album was recorded and released in 2015 as a permanently free download.
Bonus tracks include "Everywhere That You Are" (performed by Megan Hilty) and "Middle of a Moment" (performed by Skylar Astin).