“I Wanted to See if I Could Do It”

Roman Darity studies all day long to get ready for James and the Giant Peach.

It’s Chris Tinkler’s eighth summer with Tryon Little Theater’s Summer Youth Show, and he’s currently directing the musical James and the Giant Peach, based on the classic children’s book by Roald Dahl about an orphan’s surreal adventures inside the fruit of the story’s title. The burden of success rests mostly on Roman Darity’s shoulders. “The actor playing the lead is 10,” says Tinkler. “That’s commitment on a whole different level.”

The play’s logistics require extra creativity. “The entire stage will be the interior of the peach,” explains Tinkler. “Set pieces will be covered in the corrugated part of cardboard. The exterior will be orange umbrellas around a staircase unit.” Shadow puppets and screened animation helps further the plot line.

James and the Giant Peach has become a popular choice with community theaters everywhere. Much of its appeal is thanks to the musical score, written by the Tony Award-nominated duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who won an Oscar for their contributions to the film score for La La Land.

The play’s choreography is demanding and its costumes uncomfortable, but local kids rise to the challenge, says Tinkler. “It’s hard work. I expect a lot and I don’t sugarcoat. But they just do it. It’s pretty cool how much they do.

“A big part of casting kids,” he says, “is looking for personality traits, or how they answer questions or make eye contact.” Tinkler — whom the kids call “Mr. T” — might have kids play a game during an audition, to see how well they follow direction or pay attention and respond to other kids.

He is also candid about his expectations.

“Our goal is to give them as close to a professional experience as we can. I lay it out and tell them, ‘You’re going to have days when you don’t want to be here. But this is our job, to do the best possible production we can do.’ After the curtain closes, and they hear the applause, they understand why all the work was worth it.”

Roman Darity says he tried out for the role of James because he wanted to see if he could do it. “I sing every chance I get — even in the shower,” he says. “I read the script a lot, listen to the soundtrack, but singing with the piano is sometimes challenging because it sounds different.”

Lots of adults are around offering support, mostly members of the community who attend the plays. “Sometimes almost everyone in the audience is an adult,” Tinkler observes, “and most of them are not even related to any of the kids of the show.”

Tryon Little Theater (516 S. Trade St.), celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, presents its Summer Youth Theater show, James and the Giant Peach, Thursday, July 19 through Saturday, July 21 at 7:30pm and Sunday, July 22 at 3pm. Tickets are $22 adults, $11 children and students. A special preview gala happens July 18 at 6pm with hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, and a preview performance ($50). For information and tickets, visit tltinfo.org.

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