Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Junie B. Jones: The Musical, adapted from the beloved series of children’s books written by Barbara Park, with music by Zina Goldrich and book and lyrics by Marcy Heisler, is off to a great start. Because of popular demand, five more shows have been added to the performance schedule, which now runs from Feb. 15th to March 3rd. (This review is based on attending the final dress rehearsal on Feb. 14th.)
The story begins on Junie’s first day of first grade. Inspired by illustrator Denise Brunkus’ First Grader (At Last) book cover, scenic designer Dennis R. Berfield has created a giant black-and-white speckled composition book to serve as a backdrop for the opening number, “Top Secret Personal Beeswax.”
Junie, the character that we meet first, is played charmingly by Jenna Davenport. Davenport’s strong belt and energetic delivery charms the audience as we learn about her life. Then the ensemble enters. A delightful mix of performers of all ages and sizes, they perform a snappy dance with a Sesame Street vibe, created by choreographer Susan Hill.
Then, to our delight, Berfield’s book pulls apart to reveal a classroom made from colored rectangles matched perfectly to the crayon colors of those all-familiar plastic schoolroom chairs. Costumer Jenny Mitchell rises to the challenge, with a bright and sophisticated color story. The classroom chairs and tables are moved around the stage to create everything needed to tell the story, including the bus, where we meet schoolmates Herb (blond heartthrob Matthew Bain), Grace and Bobbie Jean.
At final dress rehearsal, the actor playing Grace was unable to perform because of illness, so Britney Duong performed both roles, cleverly switching seats and glasses to play both Grace and Bobbie Jean, much to the audience’s delight.
It’s obvious that educator and director Kathleen Rudolph (RLT‘s associate education director) worked with each actor individually to establish strong character traits that we recognize from our own experiences in school. There are cliques, shy kids, friendly kids, the kid with allergies, the know-it-all, and the heart-throbs.
We meet José (played by Alex Lewis), a friendly kid who speaks fluent Spanish, as he spars with the know-it-all kid, May (played full-throttle by Laura Lillian Baggett), who is only able to count to three in Español. A rather skittish kid named Lennie is a comedy standout — played by “don’t hit me because I have on glasses” Noah Zimmermann. Veteran character actor Dan Bain dons a sweater vest and glasses to create the huggable Mr. Scary, the first-grade teacher and kickball coach.
Callie Colvard, Claire Fellows, and Leah Bason create a mini-version of Hamilton’s Schuyler sisters with their number “Lucille, Camille, Chenille,” resulting in some great physical comedy for Junie, who tries her best to keep up with this talented trio. Another show-stopping number is “Sheldon Potts’ Halftime Show,” performed by the diminutive David Mills, who deftly incorporates some larger-than-he-is brass cymbals into a series of hilarious gags.
Music director Darylene Hecht brings together many outstanding solo and ensemble numbers that require quite a variation in musical styles. “Show and Tell” is performed with a gospel flair. “When Life Gives You Lemons” is straight out of Vaudeville. A cameo appearance by the lunch lady, Gladys Gutzman (played with gleeful nerdiness by RLT newcomer Rylee Davis), is 1930’s in style, leaving one wishing that the colorful lunchroom trays had been used to create a Ziegfeld Follies choreographic homage.
Troy A. Jelley and Paula Andrews play Junie’s supportive and loving parents, with some especially sweet scenes that take place around Jones’ kitchen table. But the sweetest moment of all is the final group number, “Writing Down the Story of My Life”.
Marcy Heisler’s lyrics and dialogue can be a mouthful for a young cast. So, from time-to-time, a line gets lost, especially in scenes that occur way upstage in the classroom. Enunciation and more volume would help the audience to understand every word and appreciate every joke to its fullest.
Raleigh Little Theatre frequently offers sensory-friendly performances, and there’s one for this show at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 2nd. These performances are designed for individuals with autism spectrum disorders, sensory sensitivities, or other disabilities. More information is available on the RLT website.
RLT‘s production of Junie B. Jones: The Musical, which is part of the RLT Family Series section of the theater’s 2018-19 Acts of Courage season, is performed without an intermission, lasts slightly over an hour, and is fun for six year olds and 66 year olds. Get your tickets now for this very popular musical.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 28th Raleigh, NC WRAL.com preview by Sarah LIndenfeld Hall for “Go Ask Mom”: https://www.wral.com/attention-junie-b-fans-raleigh-little-theatre-plans-musical-based-on-the-popular-series/18151466/.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents JUNIE B. JONES: THE MUSICAL at 1 and 5 p.m. Feb. 16 and 17, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 and 22, 1 and 5 p.m. Feb. 23 and 24, 7:30 p.m. Feb. 21 and 22, and 1 and 5 p.m. March 2 and 3 in RLT‘s Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $18 ($12 children 12 and under).
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/.
SHOW: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/junie-b-jones-the-musical/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/277954119587222/.
RLT‘S 2018-19 SEASON: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows-and-events/memberships/.
PRESENTER: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
MAPS/DIRECTIONS: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/map-directions.html. PARKING: http://raleighlittletheatre.org/about/parking.html.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows. RLT has also installed a hearing loop in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre.
NOTE 2: Thursday, Feb. 21st, Milk & Cookies Night, with refreshments provided by Insomnia Cookies.
NOTE 3: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 5 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24th, performance.
NOTE 4: There will be a special Sensory Friendly Performance at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 2nd, performance. Click here to order tickets.
Junie B. Jones series (illustrated children’s books, 1992-2013): http://juniebjones.com/ (Random House LLC’s official website) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junie_B._Jones (Wikipedia).
Barbara Park (author, 1947-2013): http://juniebjones.com/author (Random House LLC) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barbara_Park (Wikipedia).
Denise Brunkus (illustrator): http://juniebjones.com/illustrator (Random House LLC) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denise_Brunkus (Wikipedia).
Junie B. Jones: The Musical (2004 Off-Broadway musical): https://www.mtishows.com/junie-b-jones-the-musical (Music Theatre International), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/4672 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junie_B._Jones#Plays (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: https://www.stagestheatre.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Junie-B-Study-Guide.pdf (Stages Theatre Company of Hopkins, MN).
Zina Goldrich (music): https://goldrichandheisler.com/about-zina-goldrich/ (official website bio), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/25575 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zina_Goldrich (Wikipedia).
Marcy Heisler (book and lyrics): https://goldrichandheisler.com/about-marcy-heisler/ (official website), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/25574 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marcy_Heisler (Wikipedia).
Kathleen Rudolph (director and RLT‘s associate education director): https://raleighlittletheatre.org/people/kathleen-rudolph/ (RLT bio).
Nancy Rich is a local director/choreographer, with a love for the performing arts and a passion for supporting local artistic work. Nancy and her husband, Rod, own and operate Monkeybravo, a video production company. Nancy is one of the founders of Actors Comedy Lab and participates in local theater as a hired gun, a volunteer and, on very rare occasions, an actor. Nancy recently wrote a series of monologues called The PRINCESS Talks, performed at the 2017 Women’s Theatre Festival. Click here to read her reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.