The cast of the middle school musical, “James and the Giant Peach JR,” includes a group of handcrafted puppets made by upper school students and controlled by middle school actors who magically transform into live versions of the characters.
Roald Dahl’s classic tale tells the story of a young orphaned boy, James, who escapes his cruel aunts by traveling across the ocean in an enormous enchanted peach. His traveling companions include a grasshopper, ladybug, centipede, earthworm, and spider. Theatre Arts Design students created puppet versions of the insects who appear early in the first act.
“I have never made a puppet before so this was a brand new experience,” Gwen Laub, senior, said. She made Ladybug. “I learned about how to construct the puppet to make it stand up and hold the shape I wanted it to have. Making the face was very difficult because applying the felt to the structure took lots of time and patience.”
Director of Theatre Bob Koehler said a creative plot twist turns those felt and foam bugs into bodies.
“At first, the actors are puppeteers for the insects. A mysterious man introduces James to a magic book of potions and together they mix up a recipe that gets out of hand,” he said. What happens next is part of the magic of the musical production.
The puppets are just one element that makes “James and the Giant Peach JR” such an interesting show for audiences.
The design uses illustrations from the book, originally drawn by the artist Quentin Blake. The songs are written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the team behind “The Greatest Showman,” “La La Land” and the Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen.” 
“The music is fun, often poignant, and always magical,” Kohler said. “Especially memorable songs are ‘On Your Way Home,’ ‘I Got You,’ by the aunts and the singularly stand-out song ‘The Middle Of A Moment,’ as James makes the brave choice to go out on his own.
The story comes alive through its songs, Kohler said, especially under the direction of Dr. Josh Markley.
“Dr. Markley is so good at teaching musical theatre because of his extensive experience in opera. He can teach how to tell a story through song, and also bring to it an expertise in vocal training. Plus, he is just a fun guy. We get along great and we see things pretty much the same from an artistic viewpoint.”
Markley said “James” is a very musically challenging show.
“We have had to learn what it means to work like young professionals and get the job done. The kids playing the insects are delivering some hilarious one-liners that I can't wait for the audience to enjoy,” he said. “I have so much faith in these kids' ability to finish strong on a literal high note. I am extremely excited to share this production with our community.”
James and the Giant Peach JR will be performed in the Raymond B. White Auditorium on Thursday, Jan. 17 and Friday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m. and on Saturday, Jan. 19, at 2 p.m. Tickets are available online. Barstow students receive free tickets, but must reserve a seat in advance.

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