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James and the Giant Peach in Port Coquitlam school's stage production

Archbishop Carney presents a modern musical at Terry Fox Theatre in Port Coquitlam.

Kimberly Warner checked the “Yes” box when the drama teacher asked if she wanted to be behind the scenes rather than on stage for her school’s winter productions.

And because she indicated a crew position, Warner was always hired to stage manage the plays and musicals presented by Port Coquitlam's Archbishop Carney regional secondary, including its big shows, 12 Angry Jurors, High School Musical and Clue.

For her graduating year, however, Warner decided she wanted some of the spotlight and asked Charles Harris for a role in James and the Giant Peach, based on the classic Roald Dahl novel.

“It was hard for me to let her go,” Harris said. “She’s been a good stage manager.”

Warner plays Sponge in the show, which runs Feb. 26 to 29 at the Terry Fox Theatre in Port Coquitlam, with a cast of 40 plus 30 in the orchestra (comprised of students, alumni and musicians from the Maple Ridge Community Band).

Sponge is the antagonist, one of James’ vile and selfish aunts who prompts him to escape on a large peach in search of happiness, acceptance and familial love.

The other aunt, Spiker, is portrayed by Warner’s sister, Carly, a Grade 10 student who’s also following in the theatrical footsteps of their older sister, Natalie (a 2019 Carney graduate, she played Mrs. White in last year’s production of Clue).

Harris said his theatre group picked James and the Giant Peach last June because they wanted to produce a modern musical (last year’s High School Musical boasted sold-out performances).

As well, they were intrigued by the score penned by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the Oscar-winning songwriting team behind such musicals as Dear Evan Hansen, Dogfight, Edges, La La Land and The Greatest Showman.

“The music is phenomenal and not very well known,” Harris said. “It should be.”

Still, while the musical was selected before the summer, the leads were not.

In September, just after their year started, Harris named his stars after the second audition round, selecting Grade 9 student James Van Der Mark to play James.

Asked what qualities Van Der Mark had to take on the top gig, Harris shook his head. “When you meet him, that question gets answered within minutes. He’s just a wide-eyed, innocent boy. He’s everything that embodies the character.”

Van Der Mark’s talent is remarkable, Harris told The Tri-City News last week.

In 2017, the 14-year-old landed the lead role in the Christmas musical at Our Lady of Assumption, a feeder elementary school to Archbishop Carney. He also won gold at the Kiwanis Music Festival for his singing talents and, the following year, earned a scholarship to the Gotta Sing! Gotta Dance! musical theatre summer camp in Vancouver. A pianist, he won a first at last year’s CDMF Performing Arts Festival.

For the Carney show, Van Der Mark will have his parents, sister and vocal teacher, Lisa Kelly, in the crowd to watch his interpretation of the protagonist.

“I’m a little nervous but it’s really a fun part to play,” he said. “It’s exciting.”

For tickets at $15 to James and the Giant Peach, from Feb. 26 to 29 at the Terry Fox Theatre (1260 Riverwood Gate, Port Coquitlam), visit The curtain rises at 7 p.m.