Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Junie B. Jones: The Musical
The show opens with an invitation from Junie (a captivating Jenna Davenport) to join her as she fills her journal with "Top Secret Personal Beeswax." She has high expectations for the new school year based on her good experience in kindergarten, but she quickly finds that first grade is not everything she was expecting it to be. One of the more memorable songs in this musical "When Life Gives You Lemons (Make Lemonade)," and that is just what Junie does on her many misadventures at school, whether finding new friends or adapting to new eyeglasses.
Marcy Heisler, who wrote the book and lyrics, wove together plots from five of the books in the series. The music is by Zina Goldrich (who, with Heisler, also wrote the cult favorite song, "Taylor the Latte Boy," made famous by Kristin Chenoweth). Some of the songs, like "Lunch Box," are simplistic and short, sounding a bit like they might have been featured on "Sesame Street," while others have more of a Broadway flavor"Gladys Gutzman" reminds me a bit of Jerry Herman's "Hello, Dolly!."
Under the direction of Kathleen Rudolph, the production moves along swiftly. The musical accompaniment was pre-recorded and a bit hard to hear at the performance I attended, but the low volume appears to be an intentional choice that allows the cast to sing without mics, and it is great to hear them that way. Dennis R. Berfield's scenic design truly captures the essence of first grade, with its bold use of primary colors and a sliding mural of a journal cover decorated with graffiti.
Jenna Davenport shines as the lead in this show. Though a high school student in real life, on stage she transforms completely into 6-year-old Junie B. Jones. Callie Colvard and Laura Lillian Baggett have fun as Junie's foils, former best friend Lucille and tattletale May, respectively. Junie's friend Sheldon Potts is performed with sweet sincerity and a great sense of comedic timing by David Mills. Honorable mention must be awarded to Britney Duong, who stole the bus ride scene at the performance I attended. In addition to playing her part (Bobbie Jean Piper), Britney covered the role of Grace (Maddie Behrens was out due to illness), mining comedic gold as she conversed and even sang two-part backing vocals with herself.
Whether you read the Junie B. Jones books as a child or to your own children, there is plenty in this stage adaptation to enjoy. Junie B. Jones joins the ranks of literary and musical characters who march to the beat of a different drummer. Just as Huck Finn or Pippi Longstocking did before her, Junie catches us with her quirky individuality, ultimately revealing an endearing humanity we recognize as universal.
Junie B. Jones: The Musical, through March 3, 2019, at Raleigh Little Theatre, Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh NC. On March 2 there will be a special performance for individuals with sensory sensitivity. Tickets can be purchased online at www.raleighlittletheatre.org or by phone at 919-821-3111.
Book and Lyrics: Marcy Heisler Music: Zina Goldrich