Behind the scenes of MD musical James and the Giant Peach 


Lucy Peck, Staff Writer

Fernando Rivera (6), who plays the grasshopper in the Middle Division (MD) production of “James and the Giant Peach” was originally hesitant to audition. “I actually wasn’t planning to join the play, mostly because of stage fright,” he said. “But then, my friend Hugo convinced me and after a lot of emailing, he convinced me on the day of the auditions,” he said. Since then, Rivera has had a lot of fun during rehearsals. “I have made a lot of new friends in the cast,” he said. 

Rivera is one of the many MD students, teachers, and parent volunteers who collaborated to create the final product of the musical, taking place today and tomorrow. Director, dance teacher, and choreographer Jonathan O’Neil chose “James and The Giant Peach” before the school year began. “It’s one of my favorite stories and I loved reading the book when I was a kid,” he said. “And there’s no Broadway cast recording, which is kind of crazy… so I was interested.”

O’Neil began the process with auditions, having students read a few scenes to give him a feel for their acting abilities. “We look for flexibility and imagination,” O’Neil said. “I wanted to choose people that were playful and that had an idea of what they wanted to do and didn’t just come in and read words on the page.”

Hugo Ha (6), who plays James, was anxious during these auditions, he said. “I was a little nervous during it, but it was okay because a lot of my friends tried out with me.”

The crew began rehearsing at the end of September. O’Neil’s favorite part of the process was witnessing the talent many of the new students bring to the table, he said. “I’m most excited to see what the new students that we have this year will do and what they will bring.” 

Michael Oyaniyi (8), who plays the earthworm, found that the crew’s biggest obstacle was learning their lines. “It was a little bit challenging, but I think we are making it through.”

Ha faced the same challenge. “We had a lot of lines, like 40 or 50, so memorizing all of that was tricky.” However, Ha has had some experience with this task as he sang in a Lower Division (LD) musical performance and participated in the LD chorus. 

O’Neil, on the other hand, found it difficult to deal with the large number of students who wanted to participate in the play. There are 35 cast members in total, so most roles are double cast including James, the Matron nurse, and all of the insects. “This gives more students the opportunity to shine because we do four shows,” he said. These four shows include one for the LD in their assembly, one for the MD, one evening performance, and one matinee performance. 

Having such a large cast also makes it difficult to carve out time to give each actor individual attention, O’Neil said. “It’s been very challenging to have enough times where all students feel prepared and they’ve had the appropriate amount of rehearsal.”

Albert Lee (8), who also plays the grasshopper, found the rehearsal schedule to be challenging while practicing for the performance. “We are nearing the end of the prep time and we found that we were running out of time to block scenes and then to finish up choreography.” 

Despite the difficulties, Lee has enjoyed preparing for the play. “My highlight so far is bonding with the cast and getting to try out a new role.” 

Bailey Hecht (12), the set designer and Student Technical Director, struggled with certain aspects of the set design, especially the size of the peach, she said. As the title says, it’s “James and the Giant Peach,” so the question was always, ‘how giant can giant be?’” she said. “We ended up with a roughly eight foot peach that the lead actors spend most of the play on top of.” 

Oyaniyi’s favorite part of his performance is the song he sings about luring seagulls into the peach entitled ‘Plump and Juicy.’ “It’s just hilarious and I’m really excited to sing it,” he said. He expects a great performance and is excited to get on stage, he said.

Ha’s favorite moment of the rehearsal process was choreographing the song ‘Right Before your Eyes.’ “That’s the curtain call song and the prologue and it’s the song that stands out the most,” he said. It was especially rewarding to choreograph this song because they had been practicing it for so long during rehearsals, he said.

Oyaniyi looks toward the looming performance with anxious anticipation, he said. “It’s going to be a very good performance but I feel a bit nervous because it is my first time performing in a musical.” 

Ha also feels a mix of anxiousness and excitement. He is happy to get the chance to perform with many of his friends, he said. “I’m lucky to have such great cast members to be performing with.” 

For Hecht, the most exciting part of the preparation process has been seeing her creation from start to end. “I had the opportunity to design, build and run this show and I learned many valuable lessons and skills along the way,” she said. “I am extremely proud of what Ms. Miller, Stage Crew and I have built.”

Manager of the Theater Department Jonathan Nye, who handles administrative aspects of the performance, was impressed by the students’ performance during rehearsals. “I stopped in after the SATs to watch a little bit on Saturday, it seemed to be going great,” he said. “I expect a fantastic performance.” 

Theater teacher Benjamin Posner also anticipates an amazing performance. “I’m looking forward to seeing a group of students having fun and sharing a story with the audience.”