Friday, December 7, 2001
Giant Peach,' fractured Cinderella' high-tale to area stages
By RICK DE YAMPERT | News-Journal Entertainment Writer
DAYTONA BEACH — Orphaned boy meets meanie-weenie relatives. Boy flees meanie-weenie relatives. Boy discovers magic. Boy has wild adventures.
No, the boy is not Harry Potter.
Young woman meets meanie-weenie relatives. Young woman flees meanie-weenie relatives. Young woman discovers magic. Young woman has wild adventures.
The woman, of course, is not Harry Potter.
While the planet goes wild about Harry, two area theatrical productions will remind youngsters that the boy wizard isn't the first to escape sadness and a horrid home life with the help of a little bit of magic and a whole lot of heart.
Storybook Theater's production of "James and the Giant Peach" opens tonight at the Sands Theater Center in DeLand. Fantasy Theatre Factory's touring production of "Cinderella: A Fractured Fairy Tale" will be staged Saturday at the Ormond Beach Performing Arts Center.
The world was introduced to James and his peachy friend in 1961, when Welsh author Roald Dahl penned what would become his best-known children's work. The story was transformed into a critically acclaimed movie in 1996.
"The play is based closely on the book," says director Darlene Lentz, who has worked with Storybook Theater, a local children's theater group, for the past six years. As the story opens, James has become orphaned because "his parents have been run over by a rhinoceros," she says. "He comes to live with his two very mean, nasty aunts, and they mistreat him."
James meets an old man who gives him a magic potion, but the young boy accidentally drops it on a withered peach tree.
"And all of the magic goes into this peach tree and all the creatures around the peach tree — a bunch of insects," Lentz says. "The peach and the bugs grow to enormous proportions, and they and James go on adventures and meet various creatures. Basically, James has to save the day several times."
While such characters as Ladybug, Old Green Grasshopper, Silkworm and Centipede will employ fanciful costumes, how will Storybook Theater depict the giant peach that James uses to escape his harpy-like aunts? Lentz and her cast of young people, who range in age from 7 to 18, will rely on that most magical of elements known to humankind — imagination.
"The giant peach is suggested by spotlights," Lentz says. "It will be conveyed by the actors and what they are doing."
In fact, Lentz adds, the power of imagination is really one of the play's themes: "This adventure is sort of like James has been dreaming of getting away from his evil aunts. So this is like his fantasy."
Cinderella, of course, knows a thing or two about escaping evil relatives. The poor thing is turned into a virtual scullery maid by her wicked stepmother and stepsisters, who hang out at hoity-toity balls while ol' Cin is stuck doing the laundry and scraping dried cheese off the baking sheets.
While the traditional Cinderella story can be traced back to 16th-century Germany, Fantasy Theatre Factory gives the yarn a twist, as evidenced by the title "Cinderella: A Fractured Fairy Tale."
The Miami-based, professional not-for-profit troupe says it will use bright costumes, topical songs, unicycles, juggling, masks, acrobatics, trick scenery, jokes and puns, slapstick and more "utter zaniness" in a tale that "remains true to form — well, almost."
The stories of Cinderella, James and Harry Potter have more in common than mean relatives and magic.
A theme of "James and the Giant Peach," and a lot of children's theater, says Storybook's Lentz, is to encourage children "to look for their own strengths and power. That's basically what this story is doing for James. He finds he has a lot of creativity that helps the bugs get through these problems. So it gives him confidence."
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