James and the Giant Peach has a wild menagerie of a cast, including, from left, Spider (Sidney Raey-Gonzales), James (Angel Rodriguez), Ladybird (Alicia Kot), Earthworm (Ian Capper), and Grasshopper (Melissa Brausch). (Sacramento State/Craig Koscho)

After months of rehearsal, the effort of a group of Sac State actors is about to bear fruit. James and the Giant Peach is the University’s big spring offering, part of the annual Festival of the Arts, aka FoTA (csus.edu/festival).

Professor emeritus and master puppeteer Richard Bay returns to campus to direct Richard R. George’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s acclaimed children’s book on the main stage of the University Theatre. The play incorporates live actors, large-form puppets, music, and dance. Performances are at 8 p.m. April 5-8,  and 14-15; 6:30 p.m. April 12-13; and 2 p.m. April 9 and 16.

Dahl previously was known for his works of dark fantasy and horror for adults when he penned James and the Giant Peach, his first children’s novel. While that story, too, is at times dark, the play also is filled with comedy and enchantment, and appeals to adults as well.

Stuck living with his two horrid aunts, James is given magic crystals by a kind stranger. But when James accidentally drops the crystals under the family’s peach tree, it produces a peach the size of a house.

Climbing inside, James discovers a number of oversized insects and other crawly denizens, who become the supportive family he never had. When the peach falls from the tree, it takes flight, carrying the crew on a trip to New York City.

Bay’s previous productions have featured towering puppet characters, and this one is no exception. The two aunts are 8-foot puppets, and some stilted ones loom 10 feet above the stage.

He also is approaching the production as an organic process, with the 15 actors and actresses rewriting some of the lines.

“Part of the fun is that this group has come together to create this piece,” Bay says. “And it changes daily.”

Alicia Kot is the actor behind Ladybird, a very large ladybug who lives in the peach. A sort of snappy mother figure, she’s the one who keeps everyone else in line. “I feel like ladybugs are jumpy, so I have that in my physical portrayal,” Kot says.

Many in the cast are incorporating other talents into their characters. “We discovered at a production meeting that the woman playing the reporter can tap dance,” Bay says. “So now she’s going to be a tap-dancing reporter.”

Tickets for the 6:30 p.m. performances of James and the Giant Peach are $8 general admission and $5 for children. All other performances are $12 general admission, $10 students and seniors, and $8 children. Tickets are available at the University Ticket Office, (916) 278-4323 or csus.edu/hornettickets.

For more information on Theatre and Dance events and programs, visit csus.edu/dram or call (916) 278-6368. More information about the Festival of the Arts is available at csus.edu/festival. – Craig Koscho

In the media: "Sac State students become puppeteers for 'James and the Giant Peach' adaptation," Fox 40