|Isaac Wesley Wilson|
The warm and witty musical James and the Giant Peach is based on the whimsical book of the same name from Roald Dahl, the man who created "Matilda" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." The show features a truly charming and funny score from Oscar, Grammy, and Tony winning composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who wrote the score for Dear Evan Hansen, the songs for the movie La La Land, and also wrote the songs for the current film The Greatest Showman.
CYT Phoenix opens their production of this family friendly musical this Friday at the Mesa Arts Center.
The production is being choreographed by Phoenix native Issac Wesley Wilson, who has an extensive performing and training background, including a dance background that features ballet, jazz, contemporary, hip hop, ball room, and tap.
Wilson took a break in final rehearsals for the show to sit down to answer some questions for PHX Stages about the show, CYT, and his theatre experiences in the Valley.
For those who aren't familiar with Dahl's book or this show what can you tell them it's about?
"James and the Giant Peach is a classic story about a young boy who's family is taken away from him too soon. He is forced to live with his two terrible aunts who see him only as a servant and a meal ticket. One day, James meets a magical individual who sets him on a course to regain the love that he lost with the passing of his parents. Through his wild adventures upon a truly giant peach, James finally finds a home, a family, and himself."
You've worked at a lot of theatres in the Valley. Could you describe some of your past work?
"I have gotten to do some really fun things on stage. I got to play Nana, the dog, and the Crocodile in Peter Pan for Arizona Broadway Theatre, earn a Zoni nomination with Phoenix Theatre's Cookie Company, and book my very first professional show, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, at the former Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre with Prather Entertainment Group. I have sung South Pacific with the Phoenix Symphony, and toured Arizona Elementary Schools teaching kids to not smoke. I have played animals, children, men, and men who dress as women to get out of paying their taxes to name a few. "
How has your previous experience prepared you to choreograph this show?
"While preparing to choreograph this show, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the story we were trying to tell and how movement would play a part in it. I have always loved this story, and with it being set to the gorgeous music of Pasek and Paul, the inspiration came quickly. I also knew in advance that I wanted to push and challenge this cast so I didn't shy away from challenging choreography. Some of the dances started forming in my head as soon as I heard the songs for the first time. There were other numbers though, that required more intention to achieve a more specific effect. This project maintained quite a driven pace, but the cast worked incredibly hard and rose to every challenge we threw at them. They were eager to learn and determined to master these difficult, high-tempoed steps. As a choreographer, I couldn't be more proud of what these performers have accomplished with this production. It was also really fun to choreograph a show on and around a really giant, beautifully designed peach with multiple levels, sides, and special effects to play with!"
"Working for CYT has been a joy. The students are bursting with talent and a drive to cultivate their craft. They truly love and support each other. These kids are fast becoming the type of artists that I would enjoy having as peers in this industry. The leadership are passionate advocates for the arts, students, and staff. They are patient and encouraging with everyone, including one another. CYT has created a culture where people use their personal strengths to lift one another up in a manner that allows everyone to grow together. It has been a joy!"
How does teaching at CYT compare to your other experiences teaching?
"I have enjoyed teaching for many companies, both locally and otherwise. Teaching for CYT has been especially nice. They have a way of making you feel like you are a part of their community right away. I have always felt valued as both a teaching artist as well as a friend."
You've been in a lot of shows - both musicals and plays - in Valley Theatres. How does working with a cast of talented youth compare with working with adults?
"Adults in theatre? It's about the same. Haha. Students in theatre are typically very professional and disciplined from an early age and adults in theatre never seem to loose their youthful energy and creative freedom. I would say the main difference is simply the number of cast members who's parents pick them up after rehearsal. "
What do you hope audiences will take away from seeing this show?
"I hope that audiences will leave this show with a renewed belief in magic. I hope they never forget the power of kindness. And I hope that, like James, people can be brave enough to go get the things that make them happiest, even if they have to cross an ocean on a giant peach to find them."
CLICK HERE for more information on CYT Phoenix's production of James and the Giant Peach at the Mesa Arts Center, which runs February 2nd to February 11th