Excited children with parents and grandparents filled the lobby of the Cumberland County Playhouse. Junie B. Jones, The Musical was about to open. Grandparents talked of reading the Junie B. Jones books to their children, now parents of these children.
Weslie Webster has given seven summer acting interns a unique experience while doing an amazing job as Director. This energetic cast of young adults bring the kindergarten and first graders to life. Sophie Burnett, Malachi Banegas and music director Cory Clark have been a part of the Playhouse family for years. They join Cora Hassberger, Shelbi Metts, Kimberly Rye, Jonathan Tison, and Gwyneth Yockey in the 2019 Resident/Associate Acting company.
Kimberly Rye plays Junie B. Jones. Clad in denim overall shorts with stripped socks, she noisily reflects the emotions many of us remember experiencing. Eager for the first day of school, then terrified to go, looking forward to seeing a person who would be our friend, only to discover she has new friends.
Junni B. is told she must wear glasses. This would surely lead to her being shunned by classmates. Failure to draw a picture as assigned leads to a reprimand from her teacher. We know writing is her way of expression. She has been busily filling her “Top Secret Personal Beeswax” journal since the first day of school. Perhaps memories will flood back for adults, many children may recognize some feelings, too..
The other actors play multiple roles.
Gwyneth Yockey plays Lucille, Juni B.'s former best friend. Lucille has found a new clique in kindergarten. Their names rhyme with hers. Dressed alike, they are clearly a closed group. Chenille is played by Cora Hassberger. Sophie Burnett plays Camille. In first grade, Yockley plays Jose who speaks Spanish. Bobbi Jean Piper, as a first grader, is portrayed by Hassberger. Sophie Burnett becomes Sheldon and Lennie as the show moves on.
Shelbi Metts brings us May, the rather unpleasant Grace, as well as Juni B's tender, caring mother. Herb, whom Juni B. met on the bus and in whom she finds an understanding friend, is played by Jonathan Tison.
We see the many faces of Malachi Banegas as he plays Mr. Scary, Daddy, Mr. Woo, Chuck and even Mrs. Gusman, the cafeteria lady. Some will remember Malachi as the Cowardly Lion, Dennis Sanders, and other roles in the past.
The active and intricate choreography was created by Caitlin Schaub. Yockley, Hassberger and Burnett are uniquely athletic in their dance routines. Cory Clark, often seen as a dancer, serves as the music director of this fast moving bit of theater. Mariah Bowen has made delightful childlike costumes.
Matt Bundy has done the sound design so that one can hear and understand the words spoken or sung.
John Partyka is responsible for the set design with childlike drawings.
The voices of the company blend well on the songs that are a part of the production. Sophie Burnett does a delightful job on “Sheldon Potts' Halftime Show.” The heart of the message of Juni B. Jones is summed up in the song by Juni B. and her parents (Rye, Metts and Banegas) “When Life Gives You Lemons.” In reprise, Juni B. and the company add “Make Lemonade.”
Juni B Jones will continue “Writing Down the Story of My Life” as she enters second grade with a new blank notebook. We ponder how the very well-behaved children in the opening day audience, who were totally absorbed in the show, will fill pages to tell the story of their lives?
The book and lyrics for Junie B. Jones. The Musical were written by Marcy Heisler. The music is by Zina Goldrich. It is adapted from the Juni B. Jones series of books by Barbara Park. Some teachers and school librarians feel these were among the finest books written for young children.
Junie B. Jones. The Musical will continue to entrance children and adults in the Adventure Theater at 10 a.m. on special dates through Aug. 10. The tickets, which are going fast, are $7 for all ages. Call 931-484-5000 or stop by the box office to get yours.