Members of the cast and orchestra pit rehearse a number from McKeesport Area High School's production of "James and the Giant Peach."
McKeesport Area High School graduate Carolyn Carreiro was hired by her alma mater in 2012 to design the program for the spring musical.
Now she’s producing her third musical there – “James and the Giant Peach” – based on the children’s book of the same name by Roald Dahl.
The musical, which opens Thursday and runs through Saturday in the high school auditorium, relates the story of a young orphan named James, who is taken in by two not-so-nice aunts, his only living relatives. He discovers the recipe for a magic potion that causes a peach tree in their yard to produce a giant fruit.
“The production staff chose ‘James and the Giant Peach’ after much deliberation,” Carreiro said. “The fact that it is not as well-known was actually a plus; there are so many shows that get done over and over again. The story is so appropriate for all ages and that makes for a great family night. The music is upbeat and catchy. Our students in both the cast and orchestra are enjoying it so much.”
The show tells what happens to James and a band of human-sized insects -- also enlarged by the magic potion. Together they find themselves inside the peach and headed for the journey of a lifetime.
Senior Elise Wakefield, who said she’s wanted to be a lead character since she got involved with the musicals in ninth grade, portrays James.
“I’ve seen the movie and a play, but not the musical,” she said. “I fit his personality and relate to James – initially kind of shy.”
For Elise and other members of the cast, one of the nicest things they say they take from participating in the musical is making new friends and developing a sense of family with them.
“My favorite part is that I get to do this with all my friends, who make it easy,” she said. “That I get to act next to them is nice.”
After high school, Elise plans to attend college and major in biology, then go to medical school. She said she’d like to be a plastic surgeon one day to help people, such as children with cleft lips and cleft palates.
Excited about their roles in "James and the Giant Peach," from left, are Elise Wakefield as James, Madolyn Boynton as Sponge, Tommi Lynn Barnes in the orchestra pit and Madison Kwiecinski as stage manager.
One of the people Elise gets to act with is senior Madolyn Boynton, who plays Sponge, one of the aunts.
“This year is really hard, having to be mean,” Madolyn said with a laugh. One of her favorite musical numbers is “Property of Spiker (the other aunt) and Sponge,” providing a clue about how they plan to treat James.
“My costume is very neon, very clashy,” she said. “I’m crazy and have a lot of energy, so it’s very me.”
Madolyn said she plans to take a year off school after graduation, instead returning to the workforce in a business environment while she explores her options.
Costumes, props, sets, and various other components have presented their own set of challenges.
“Our costumer, Melissa Cooper, has been working her fingers to the bone creating costumes,” Carreiro said. “We have a very interesting mix of characters on the stage so this has been challenging. Most of the costumes were made from scratch and some were repurposed and changed.”
One of the goals Carreiro said she’s set as producer is building up the stage crew over the last few years.
“Our stage manager, Madison Kwiecinski, is a sophomore who really stepped up last year and has proven herself to be invaluable,” Carreiro said. “She takes the responsibility on with confidence.”
Madison said she’s always liked theater and has gone to musicals since she was a little girl.
With so many students having other activities in and out of school, including jobs, Madison said sometimes it has been difficult to get potential stage crew members to come to rehearsals consistently.
As stage manager, it is her job to be on top of everything from placing and moving props to making quick scene changes. Once she’s familiar with what’s needed, Madison documents it so others can follow her directions.
High above the stage, Elisa Wakefield as James explores the giant peach.
Building the giant peach, which still awaited final touches last week, was quite a project, she said. “It’s fun to see it all come together between scenes.”
Music for “James and the Giant Peach” will be performed by the high school students, under the direction of Sarah Persin, and supplemented by some professionals because of the difficulty, Carreiro said.
“The pit is full of amazing students; they work so hard and don’t always get the accolades they deserve,” the producer said. “I absolutely love that we still have an orchestra playing for our musical. This is a high school musical and the musicians are just as important as the cast and the stage crew.”
Senior Tommi Lynn Barnes is one of those musicians. She’s played for her high school musicals before, each time on a different instrument.
“I played electric and acoustic guitar for ‘Shrek’ and flute for ‘Cinderella,’ ” she said. This year it’s bass.
“The music is very challenging, even a little out of my comfort zone. Music is a huge part of my life,” she said. “I play 19 instruments. My grandmother gave me a keyboard and drum set when I was little and told me to go have fun. Ukulele is my favorite.”
In college, she plans to pursue history education combined with a minor in music.
As opening night approaches, Carreiro said she is proud of how hard the students have worked.
“The students in the musical have so many conflicts. They work jobs – some have two jobs – and they are involved in clubs and athletics. This makes it challenging for them to be at rehearsals and much of the time they are running back and forth to try to accomplish everything.
“That kind of commitment is so hard for kids today. We have a really talented cast. The leads are from every grade level, so I foresee the talent continuing.”
If You Go
The show runs each day at 7:30 p.m., with an additional matinee Saturday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for students and senior citizens, on a first come, first served basis.
Cast and Crew
In addition to Carreiro and Persin, adult personnel include director and vocal director Sean Thornton, choreographer Samantha Mitchell, assistant director Paul Fields, technical director Ben McDonald, set designer John Kiska, makeup designer J.J. Wonderling, lighting designer John Light, hair designer Monica Kitta, ticket coordinator Diane Kolesar and props master Kaelynn Hillegass, with Diane Pazuchanics coordinating the academy arts students.
Other student cast members include Matt Diamond as Ladahlord, Ana Chelosky as Spiker, Ray Myah Pryor and Jayla Andrews as Spider, Adam Martinelli as Grasshopper, Pearl Christeson and Mikaela Wade as Ladybug, Joey Young and Josh Wonderling as Centipede, Tai’Vaugh Williams and Connor Shields as Earthworm, Jayme Grabowsky as Matron Nurse, Jenna Dean as Mrs. Trotter, Darius Byrd as Mr. Trotter, Casey Harbert as Billy Bobby-Cop, Hope Shelly as Bobby Bobby-Cop, Olivia Bakaturski as Bitsy Botana, Canaan Baldinger as Buzz and Tayler Cleveland as Gloworm.
Vagrants include Anistashia Emery, Carlie Humanic and Jessica Wakefield. Members of the Garden Guild are Nia Bonner, Grace Chappell, Tayler Cleveland, Jenna Dean, Casey Harbert, Crystal Reynolds and Bethany Rubright.
Garden Dancers are Nia Bonner, Jenna Dean, Alexia Derganz, Charisma Ford, Hailey Morgart and Hope Shelly.
Portraying Hollywood Agents are Canaan Baldinger, McKayla Burke, Suvannaha Deemer, Alexia Derganz, Charisma Ford, Laikyn Gruszewski, Hope Shelly and Jessica Wakefield.
Rounding out the cast as Reporters are Darius Byrd, Anistashia Emery, Jayme Grabowsky, Carlie Humanic, Julie Sharbaugh, Keara Shields and Ailaya Singleton.
Originally published April 11, 2018.