BETMCrazy: What is James and the Giant Peach about?
Justin: James and the Giant Peach (JATGP) is a show about family and what happens to a young boy named James after his parents are violently taken from him at a young age. He is sent to live with his evil aunts after his parents’ deaths. They treat him like a slave, beating him, starving him at times and even making him sleep outside! That is no way for anyone to live, or for people to treat one another, with such disregard for your feelings. But don’t worry – one day James encounters a carnival magician named Marvo, who casts James a unique and mystical spell, making a dead peach tree come to life and grow to ginormous proportions. The bugs that live in and around that very same Peach Tree become super sized as well. James escapes the horrors of his aunties, Sponge and Spiker, and sets sail within the Giant Peach, with his new family. And the rest, well, you’ll just have to come and see the show to find out what happens!
B: Is the musical different from the movie at all?
J: The musical is being performed at Goodspeed Musicals’ Norma Terris Theatre in Chester, CT. It’s extremely different from the movie version for many reasons. Most noteworthy are all of the new songs – composed and written by the young, hip, award-winning writing team of Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The story line is basically the same as the film; scriptwriter Timothy Allen McDonald does create some intriguingly fun moments – in the end Spiker and Sponge meet with a different fate. It’s poetic justice! Also, James has more solos (YAY!) in the musical as well as tons of physically demanding movements. The songs are really special and so moving, very touching, emotionally intimate and challenging. I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!
B: What is your favourite song to sing in the show?
J: My favorite song has to be Shake It Up, sung with Marvo the Magician. It’s where we are “mixing” up a spell to help me escape the evils of living with my aunts, and be free to find my own way. When I’m not rehearsing, which is almost never because this play is a work in constant progress — always evolving, I’m usually studying for school with Lea, my tutor. She is a wonderful person and has helped me to stay on top of my work for Portledge School in Locust Valley, NY. I’m in the 6th grade, just entering middle school, so it’s important for me to stay focused on the big picture, which means doing well in school. I also love to catch up on my sleep. So when I have a chance, I catch some zzzzzz’s.
B: What do you like to do when you’re not rehearsing?
J: I love hanging out with the cast, loving “game night” and having conversations – I am learning so much from everyone. On my days off, my mom and I (and sometimes my brothers), take in the sights of this beautiful town. We’ve been on the Essex Steam Train, the Riverboat (Connecticut River tour), Gillette Castle, The Goodspeed Opera House, and a lot of other great places in and around Chester and Haddam. Every day is something new.
B: How did you learn about auditions for James and the Giant Peach?
J: I found out about JATGP from mom, who combs the internet and the actor sites daily for just the right roles for my brothers and me. This part was a real PEACH and I was so excited to audition for it.
B: Did you get to see the movie James and the Giant Peach before you knew you were going to be in the Goodspeed production of the musical?
J: I’ve always loved JATGP and have watched the movie many times. I love the movie and feel a connection with the James character. It would be so neat to actually meet the actor who created that role. I thought he was truly special and had such excitement and fantasy in his acting.
B: Are you similar to your character James at all?
J: I think I am similar to James in many ways – being intelligent and brave and a leader. But also, like James, I need the love of family. It is the most important thing there is – to have parents in your life who love and support you and are always there for you, no matter what else happens. I also love animals. At home I have fish, hermit crabs and cats but, if I could, I would also have rabbits, dogs, lizards, turtles and ferrets!
B: Are you missing home at all now that you’re in Connecticut for a while?
J: I’ve been in Connecticut for over a month now, with rehearsals taking up most of my time so far. But I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel back and forth to my hometown of Great Neck, and will even get to go to school for a day or two here and there, over the course of the next month. I enjoy being in Connecticut, doing what I love, and hoping that people will love what they see. Before you know it, this experience will be but a distant memory, so I’ve got to hang in there and enjoy the ride.
B: How many times a week will you be performing?
J: Performances usually are twice on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and then in the evening on Thursday and Friday. There are also a few student matinees thrown in at 11 in the morning, so those should be super cool, since everyone will be a KID!
B: What days at the theater are “dark” (do not have a performance that day) for the show?
J: The theatre is always DARK on Mondays and sometimes on Tuesdays, and those are the days when I get to go back home.
B: When does James end its production at Goodspeed?
J: The Goodspeed Musicals’ production of JATGP at the Norma Terris Theatre runs from October 21-November 21. I hope everyone will come out for it – it really is magical.
B: What are hoping to do once James and the Giant Peach is over?
J: There is a lot of “buzz” about this show, so the next step would be for a producer to fall in love with it and take it to Broadway! And, I would love to star as James on Broadway, singing my heart out, and telling James’ magical story every night. I would also LOVE the opportunity to return to the stage as Michael Banks in Mary Poppins, alongside my buddies Gavin Lee, Karl Kenzler and Megan Osterhaus, all of whom I performed with on the U.S. tour.
B: Do you have any advice for other kids that want to be actors?
J: My advice is simple: practice, believe in yourself always, and be passionate about what it is that you LOVE to do! Acting is such a thrill, and musical theatre is the icing on the cake. You get to make the words on the page come to life, and move people to feel things, inspire them and bring them joy. There’s nothing better!
Note: Production photos used throughout the interview by Diane Sobolewski.
Check out Justin in Playbill
You can also check out Justin and his brothers at their website.