As a natural follow-up to last month’s production of “Rent,” performed by a cast of talented local high school students, StageDoor Theatre in Aspen Park delivered another thriller Saturday night with the third performance of “James and the Giant Peach, Jr.” fearlessly delivered by eighth-and ninth-graders hailing primarily from West Jefferson Middle School.
The cast, also referred to as StageDoor’s Junior Company, tackled the complex musical with a playful blend of enthusiasm and energy that would suffice to make any director gleam with satisfaction. Director Chris Sage was no exception.
“It is so cool to see these kids make the journey and invest in making this a successful production,” Sage said. “I have seen an amazing amount of improvement in overall showmanship from this group, and that has been very gratifying.”
Sage teaches drama at WJMS, and is thankful for the many opportunities the community provides to young actors. About 75 percent of the cast was comprised of his own students at WJMS.
“I love the fact that this community is so supportive of theater at all levels,” Sage said. “It doesn’t matter where students study, as long as they have an opportunity to learn and develop through the arts.”
The entire cast demonstrated a thorough understanding of the story line and script, and collectively projected a spirited and unified dedication to making it their own.
“I generally am not inclined to promote much improvisation, but a number of the students took calculated creative risks that really worked,” Sage said. “So in a number of cases I said ‘OK, let’s go ahead and keep that.’”
Lead actress Lily Hughes, an eighth-grader, anchored the effort throughout the production in her role as “James.” Her timing, vocal projection and confidence on stage were exceptional, and her mastery of the script was readily apparent to all.
“Lily worked with a voice coach, and her overall leadership and her ability to take the initiative was a huge asset for us,” Sage said. “She immediately came in and declared that this was the role she wanted, and she just would not be denied.”
Paige Gilloth, in her role as “Ladahlord,” also demonstrated the poise and precision of a polished thespian.
“Paige is only a seventh-grader, but she has been in more than a half dozen performances and it shows,” Sage said.
Brooklyn Carlson and Hana Rose Potter kept the audience in stitches in their roles as “Spiker” and “Sponge.” The duo developed an on-stage chemistry that provided an invaluable brand of comedic flair from start to finish. The two played the role of reluctant guardians to James, each sparkling in her own way as lovable villains.
“Brooklyn and Hana did not even know one another before we started rehearsing, and the synergy they have developed has been phenomenal,” Sage said.
Sage also credited choreographer Lauren Russell, student director Maryn Rafdal and assistant choreographer Ashley Trefethen with jobs well done.
The StageDoor Theatre is located in the Aspen Park Village Shopping Center at 25797 Conifer Road in Conifer. For information about tickets to the final weekend of this show or upcoming productions, visit www.stagedoortheatre.org or call 303-838-0809.