THE INSECTS and James are amazed by every aspect of their giant peach, which gives them comfortable place to play in the Middle School production of “James and the Giant Peach, Jr.” From left: Ethan Joseph (Grasshopper), Alyssa Casassa (Spider), Victoria Cerqueira (James), Elizabeth Ayer (Ladybug), Nico Garrett (Centipede), Aiden Buckley (Earthworm). (Courtesy Photo)



NRHS Arts Department student intern

NORTH READING — The Performing Arts Center at North Reading High School was transformed into Roald Dahl’s story “James and the Giant Peach, Jr.” and from the minute the lights dimmed, I was captivated by the cast.

Presented by the North Reading Middle School drama department, the cast performed this energetic musical with great enthusiasm, grandeur, and absolutely rocked, bringing director Mrs. Carla Lister and student director Jackson Wisco’s vision to light. The musical combined aspects of Dahl’s master storyteller in his beloved 1961 book and the 1996 adventure film, featuring his special brand of marvelous language and a lot of wickedly tuneful new songs. Add to that, a healthy dollop of theater magic with a beautiful and colorful set design. To top it off, clean, bright costumes that complemented this delightful experience and were accentuated by beautiful props and puppets.

The Middle School students rehearsed constantly in preparation for this production. For the first two months, students learned music and character development, although each character grows with each rehearsal. By December the students began learning choreography, as everyone in the cast is a triple threat: actor, singer, and dancer. Finally, as January rolled in, rehearsals become more focused as they put together all aspects of the performance on stage.

Along with being highly entertaining, “James and the Giant Peach, Jr.” teaches lessons about family, friendship, and growth. As orphan James (performed by the talented Victoria Cerqueira) embarks on a journey of self-discovery he meets his no-good, conniving aunts, Spiker and Sponge, played by the hilarious sidekicks Teresa Koenig and Kaia Cushing-Candelario, and then encounters a new crew of interesting insects, eventually setting off across the Atlantic aboard a gigantic peach.

The lively opening number, “Right Before Your Eyes,” sets the tone for a grand adventure as the mysterious Ladahlord, played by charismatic Jasper McEntee, functions as the musical’s narrator and orchestrates the magic that occurs throughout the show. The rest of the ensemble dance, tap and sing, immediately putting anyone in the audience in a good mood. Each subsequent character was totally uproarious and given a chance to shine with their unique characteristics and costuming.


THE MASSIVE revolving peach was a character all its own. The enormous structure took the audience’s breath away in the Middle School production of “James and the Giant Peach, Jr.” while giving the huge cast a wonderful place to play. (Courtesy Photo)

As the curtain opened in Act 2, the stage opened to the massive revolving peach, a character all its own. The enormous structure took the audience’s breath away and gave the actors a new, but comfortable place to play, finding joy in every line and movement.

Notable performances include the early solo by James, “On Your Way Home,” that Cerqueira sings with beauty and softness. On the other end of the spectrum, the over-the-top “There’s Money on That Tree” is a campy company effort complete with roving reporters, bumbling cops and Spiker and Sponge trying to make the most out of their newly discovered peach of epic proportions.

The Latin-driven “Plump and Juicy” sees the nervous Earthworm, played by Aiden Buckley, build his confidence in a show-stopping number where he is offered as bait to attacking seagulls. Grasshopper, Ladybug, Spider and Centipede, played by Ethan Joseph, Elizabeth Ayer, Alyssa Casassa and Nico Garrett, respectively, manipulated puppets like pros, tore at our heart strings with “Everywhere That You Are,” and worked together as a family.  “

“Welcome Home” brilliantly brings it all in as James (Cerqueira) and his new “family” happily sing “Just look at where we are, we’ve come very far together.”

The cast and crew of “James and the Giant Peach, Jr.” worked as a cohesive team in that small space of the stage, knew their parts well, and performed one of the best Middle School shows yet. Every year these students get better and better, and this year was no different. I am excited to see what they bring to the table during their One Act season, which will be auditioned in March and performed in May with the Middle School branch of the Massachusetts Educational Drama Guild (METG), and into the future.

The cast and crew of “James and the Giant Peach, Jr.” are: Macey Reyen, Henry Grady, Alyssa Casassa, Elizabeth Ayer, Aiden Buckley, Maegan Mabbett, Victoria Cerqueira, Kiera Friedrich, Gavin Washburn, Coroline Paradis, Alayna Cherwek, Paige Gilbody, Emma Steele, Jasper McEntee, Meghan Russell, Bianca Villasanti, Teresa Koenig, Kaia Cushing-Candelario, Ethan Joseph, Tabitha Begley, Barrett Deninger, Teresa Hornby, Harper Breen, Julia Scott, Phoebe McEntee, Jameson Regan, Reese Pasakarnis, Michael Fisher, Ruby Davidson, Ella Blanche, Ameliah Roman, Lukas Schomp, Nico Garrett, Thomas Friel, Shayla Dooley, Dylan Strohman, Mia Ledoux, Matthew Thorpe and Riley Mirisola.

As well as, Reki Bergen-Aki, Naiyla Flores, Isabel Small, Amelia Greene, Daniel DeInnocentis, Mira Daniels, Kyra Grossi, Brooke Hanson, Verity Modeen, Emily Vitale, Arden Rudloff, Fiona Rogers, Tristan Sweetland, Anna Gullotti, Erin McCaul, Isabella Rom, Yusuf Bousekhane, Michael Levato, Ethan Kerstein, Cole Donahue, Matteo Garrett, Annabelle Gomes, Elida Bajrami, Corrina Benedict, Molly Galbraith, Nathan Curtice, Drew Sutherland, Elio Bancarotta, Rebecca Romeo, Hugo Da Silva, Ross Levato, Alyssa Gerokoulis, Jackson Wisco, Emma Levato, Kallie LaBarge, Ryan Marchand and Charlotte Stevens.