‘James and the Giant Peach’ at ABET in its New Neptune Beach Home

The newly rebranded All Beaches Experimental Theatre launches its 27th season tomorrow at its new Neptune Beach home with the musical “James and the Giant Peach.” The show runs through Sept 30 (www.abettheatre.com).

fri21sep(sep 21)8:00 pmsun30(sep 30)4:00 pmJAMES & THE GIANT PEACHNew ABET Location

Director Lee Hamby says the family-friendly musical based on the beloved children’s book by Roald Dahl was the perfect choice to christen ABET’s new stage. “I think the story really resonates because it talks about finding your family and finding your home,” he says. “And that’s really what ABET is doing right now. It’s finding its place and finding its home, so I think this story works well right now. It was happenstance, for sure.”

“James & the Giant Peach” is a lively and heartfelt adventure about a small boy on a journey of epic proportions. The composers behind “Dear Evan Hansen” and “The Greatest Showman” scored the oversized, fantastical, magical family musical. The cast includes Brian Neice, Shauna Clark, Erin Barnes, Leanne Gullo, Sade Crosby, Jacob Pickering, Christine Phillips, Gary Baker, Michael Yarick, Kenggy Bravo, Karen Coughlin, Amanda Jackson, Rhodie Jackson, Brian Martins, Jack Niemczyk and Kimberly Cooper York.

Artistic Director Celia Frank says the board chose to stage a family-friendly production as the first show in the new building to welcome audiences of all ages. The new season also includes the musical “The Robber Bridegroom,” a mystery for the Halloween season in “Wait Until Dark,” the Southern Christmas comedy “Dashing Through the Snow” and the thought-provoking drama “Eleemosynary.” The classic “Alice in Wonderland” closes out the season.

“We will still present the varied season of productions that we are known for,” says Frank. “Since we will finally have our own space, we will be able to add many diverse programming options, as well as classes and anything else we can imagine. Our opportunities are endless, and we are extremely excited.”

Construction delays pushed the opening back two weeks from its original Sept. 7 date, forcing cast and crew to navigate rehearsals around the unfinished stage. The new 2,500-square-foot location features an indoor lobby instead of a front porch with three restrooms, a dressing room and shop area backstage. The stage is a more conventional design, with the audience seated on six risers instead of wrapped around the side.

“Logistics was always a thing,” says Hamby. “We had to reconfigure some things. But it’s been lovely. Everybody has been really great.”

'James and the Giant Peach' at ABET in its New Neptune Beach Home

Frank says the board made the decision that last season would be its final one in the Adele Grage Center where it served the community for 25 years. “It had become apparent that the Atlantic Beach City Council wanted to turn the space into more of a multi-purpose facility rather than a theatre,” she says. “Scheduling and other issues had become insurmountable, and we knew it was time to move.”

Hamby, who directed several productions at the former ABET location, says operating within a shared space created a series of challenges. “We haven’t had the privilege of being in there the way that everyone following us will be. But just having the capability of coming and going as we wish is huge. At the old ABET space, you had to get permission, you had to be on the calendar. If you were scheduled to rehearse at 7, you couldn’t get there any earlier than 7,” he says.

“This is a huge difference. There’s nothing like having a place for your stuff. The little stuff is what makes you realize how wonderful it is to have your own space like a filing cabinet or a place for your tools rather than having to schlep everything around. It becomes a whole different experience.”

The move and build-out totaled twice the anticipated costs. An online fundraiser is underway with a goal of $80,000 to help offset some of the construction costs and replenish the coffers. ABET Through the Years: A Fundraiser Cabaret was held in July and offered a look back at many of the musical productions staged through the years.

While directing the first production on the new stage had its share of obstacles, Hamby is grateful for the privilege and hopeful audiences will embrace the new chapter in ABET history.

“It’s one of my favorite places to direct because you have to be so creative and I love that,” he says. “It’s like being put in a box in a way and finding a creative way to make that space come to life. We’ve christened it for sure and I have been so lucky to experience this. It’s been a challenge to do a good job and show people what really can happen in this space.”

About Liza Mitchell