With music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, book by Timothy Allen McDonald, and choreography from the physical theatre company Pilobolus, I was obsessed before I even got there. Not only is James and the Giant Peach one of my all-time favorite childhood books, I also love Pasek and Paul's music having had found them on YouTube a few years ago (this is my favorite song of theirs sung by Gavin Creel: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZqFnNr1mmMY&feature=related) plus the addition of physical theatre which I have loved exploring as well as helping others explore my last two years at Middlebury. Frankly, this production was a dream for me; here was a production combining my two loves, my two passions of the theatre world.
As soon as I stepped into the theatre, the minimalistic approach grabbed me immediately. There was a blank stage littered with spike marks. A bare black brick wall at the back of the stage was all curtain I needed, leaving open a place to play. That is just what these performers did, PLAY, and it was beautiful. Amidst the cleanly and creatively directed scenes and songs (Graciela Daniele... Genius) the essence of "play" was never lost. People who have worked with me both in my direction and choreography know I am a stickler for precision. I saw a lot of precision in this production that was obviously influenced and quite seemingly birthed from the sense of play and gave me a whole new idea of what precision truly means and comes from.
In this production, there are two very distinct types of performers: the musical theatre actors/singers/dancers and the Pilobolus company members. This a brand new production, and a type of production that truly has never been done before, which was so great to experience first hand as an audience member in these early performances and workshop runs (I was at the 6th ever performance). There were times that I could see the "two types of performers" in there own worlds as well as times when the lines blurred. I liked both of these moments and wonder what will happen as they play more and continue to explore each others' worlds...
Every aspect of the show had me engaged. There were moments I laughed, moments I cried, moments I was stupefied, and moments where I was allowed to use my imagination. I personally feel we sometimes forget about our imagination as it is now so easy to just make a digital creation of something. That's what I was expecting at this production: big digital images of a growing peach, The Lion King-esque puppetry for the bugs, etc. But it wasn't, and I couldn't have been happier.
One comment did make me think twice though. There was a little girl behind me who blurted out in the beginning of the first act, "Where's the peach?" All of sudden the possibility of the absence of her imagination filled my thought and how sad that could be. Now, she was maybe 6 and I totally understand her wanting to see the peach. I mean, she's grown up in a world where movies have over-run everything, and digital means are in excess creating really mind-blowing effects. This production just isn't that. It made me go back into my imagination, just as I did when I read the book. I was immediately brought back into my childhood, recounting all the pictures I had created for the story in my head, and that is what made this production so special to me. I just hope that we aren't killing imagination for our younger generations, because I don't know how to get it back once it's gone.
We were lucky enough to go on the night that they were having a talk-back with Benj Pasek, Timothy Allen McDonald, and Michael Tracy (the choreographer from Pilobolus). It was so great to hear how this production came together and their visions for how this exploratory run at the Norma Terris Theater was to continue. McDonald explained that a whole 30 new pages were going in for the next performance totally re-vamping the storyline of the bugs. I guess that's what happens when you only have three weeks to create a brand new show; things will change during the performances. The three creators onstage had some wonderful little tidbits about the theatre and this show:
- Musicals are about extraordinary things that, in our day to day lives, make you who you are.
- Physical theatre is like pantomime as an Olympic sport. It is story telling through the body.
- "This piece will tell us where it needs to be."