The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

The student news source of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

The Racquet Press

“It’s a story about finding family and where you belong.” UWL Theatre and Dance presents “James and the Giant Peach”

Ensemble members dance during a musical number. Photo taken by Ann David.

The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse Department of Theatre and Dance presents “James and the Giant Peach” as this season’s spring musical. 

Based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, “James and the Giant Peach” is a playful and magical journey of a boy who sets out to change his life and find a real family. After a magic potion creates a giant peach, James climbs inside and is introduced to a group of quirky, oversized insects who have made a home for themselves in the peach. Working together, they navigate the peach across the ocean while facing hunger, sharks and lots of disagreements. 

Performances are April 5-6 and 11-13 at 7:30 p.m. with Sunday matinees April 7 and 14 at 2:00 p.m. at Toland Theatre in the Truman Lowe Center for the Arts.

The Racquet Press sat down with the show’s Director and Assistant Professor of Theatre and Dance Greg Parmeter, as well as cast members Emily Babcock and Sage Goetsch.  

The department typically puts on a children’s show each spring, in addition to a spring musical. However, one slot for the spring semester was filled by the UWL dance minor program concert, “Art in Motion”. “James and the Giant Peach” was the best of both worlds – a family-friendly musical. 

“[“James and the Giant Peach”] has been well known for over 60 years. Kids still read the book in school,” said Parmeter. “The music is written by [Benj] Pasek and [Justin] Paul, who [composed music for] “Dear Evan Hansen” and “The Greatest Showman”. It just seemed to be a perfect fit for what we needed to do in the season and the resources we had in terms of performers.” 

Despite being a show for the whole family, numerous technical challenges made “James and the Giant Peach” difficult to produce. 

“We chose the show going, ‘Oh this is a nice little children’s musical!’ but it is a devilishly difficult piece to produce on stage,” said Parmeter.  

“First of all, you have a giant freakin’ [sic] peach that grows in front of the audience’s eyes in the show. You have characters that are based in the fantastical, yet still have to be believable and honest,” said Parmeter. 

The show’s directors had contracted with a local business to provide steel fabrication to build the giant peach. Three weeks into rehearsals, the directors checked on the business’s progress, only to find an internal communication error caused the business to misplace the order and never began producing the steel.

“We had to shift from the idea of the structure of the main peach…being made out of steel into being made out of wood. Everything we’d planned on doing with assembly and construction changed because they’re totally different processes,” said Parmeter. 

But the show must go on. 

Babcock plays James in the show and spoke about the challenges of performing in a musical as opposed to a play. 

“I think the biggest thing with a musical is…finding the motivation for [your] character to break out into song. Because on the surface level… you’re like, ‘…Why would you break out into song there?’ You have to look at the whole context of the scene,” said Babcock. 

Both Parmeter and Babcock mentioned the show’s musical conductor, UWL Professor of Theatre and Dance Kathryn Moran, as a key piece to the actors’ and the show’s success. The UWL Theatre and Dance Instagram recently posted a behind-the-scenes look at the pit orchestra, affectionately called the “Peach Pit”. 

“Our conductor Kat Moran is amazing at what she does, and the pit we have is so cool. They know exactly where to pick us up at, they know what to do,” said Babcock. 

Babcock also gave a shout out to the costume designer for the show, Joe Anderson, professor of theatre and dance at UWL and said she, “Can’t shut up about these costumes!”

“[Joe is] amazing. He knows so much about these costumes, and he’s done a really good job of making James and the five bugs have very distinct [looks],” said Babcock. 

Goetsch, a stage management major, is a member of the ensemble and said he was challenged by keeping track of the five or six different characters he plays.

“It’s mostly just trying to pay attention to the story and following along where your character fits into the story. The ensemble…changes costumes between all of the first four numbers, back-to-back,” said Goetsch. 

But the challenges are all worth it in the end. “Getting to do that with a group of people and all of us are switching characters a lot, it’s been a fun experience,” said Goetsch. 

As for the story itself, Parmeter reflected on the show’s themes of belonging and courage. 

“You can take away the peach, you can take away the magic, and at heart, it’s still a story about finding family and finding where you belong,” said Parmeter.

If you attend the show, please note that the parking lot next to Lowe Center for the Arts is currently closed due to construction. Patrons are advised to arrive early to find alternate parking. The parking ramp on the corner of Farwell and 17th St has free parking after 7:00 p.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. The parking ramp can be located on UWL Campus map  (#30). For those with mobility issues, there is a drop off site next to the Lowe Center for the Arts on the corner of 15th and Pine St. 

 If you attend:

Who: UW-La Crosse Department of Theatre & Dance

What: James and the Giant Peach based on the book by Roald Dahl; Music & Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, Book by Timothy Allen McDonald

Where: Toland Theatre, Lowe Center for the Arts (333 N. 16th Street, La Crosse)

When: April 5-6 & 11-13 at 7:30 p.m. and April 7 & 14 at 2 p.m.

Cost: $22 adults; $20 seniors citizens/non UWL students; $8 UWL students. Assigned seating. Tickets may be purchased online at beginning October 1, 2023. In person/phone reservations begin April 1 by calling 608-785-6696. Box office hours are Monday through Friday 1-3 p.m. and one hour prior to each performance. All tickets printed at the box office or held at will call will incur an additional fee. Patrons are encouraged to buy their tickets online and download the tickets to their phone/email.

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About the Contributor
Ann David
Ann David, Multimedia Editor
  • Year at UWL: Junior
  • PGPs: She/Her/Hers
  • Hometown: Eau Claire, WI
  • Major: English: Medical Professions Emphasis
  • Minor: Biology; Music Performance
  • Other Campus Involvement: UWL Wind Ensemble and Orchestra Member
  • Future Plans after Graduation: Attending grad school in Minnesota
  • Favorite activity in La Crosse: Walking through the Rotary Lights at Riverside Park in the winter with friends.
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