Review: Junie B. Jones (Emerald City Theatre)

| November 21, 2011
A scene from Emerald City Theatre's "Junie B. Jones," adapted by Allison Gregory and Directed by Jacqueline Stone.       
      
Junie B. Jones

Adapted by Allison Gregory
From book series by Barbara Park
Directed by Jacqueline Stone  
Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Jan 8  |  tickets: $13-$16   |  more info

Check for half-price tickets 
    
        
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Junie B. has a sweet spirit

     

Junie B. Jones  - Emerald City Theatre

    
Emerald City Theatre presents
    
Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!

Review by Lauren Whalen 

Christmas in childhood is a time of simple pleasures: donning elf hats at the school sing-a-long, desperately wanting toys that make funny sounds and wheedling five dollars out of Grandpa. It’s also a time when important lessons are learned: germs are best avoided, tattling is not nice and giving to others is much more rewarding than taking for yourself. “Junie B. Jones,” Barbara Park’s popular children’s book series, follows an opinionated first grader as she bops through life and grows as a person along the way. In the winning Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! Emerald City Theatre fulfills its mission to teach children through the arts – and does so in the most adorable and engaging ways imaginable.

A scene from Emerald City Theatre's "Junie B. Jones," adapted by Allison Gregory and Directed by Jacqueline Stone.Junie B. Jones (don’t forget the middle initial, please) couldn’t be more excited for Christmas: the songs, the letters to Santa, the class Christmas party. If only her classmate May weren’t such a tattletale. When teacher Mr. Scary announces a classroom Secret Santa, Junie B. is even more enthused – but her happiness dims when she draws May’s name. What’s a burp toy-coveting little girl to do?

An educational theatre company that prides itself on interactive productions and recreational programs for young thespians, Emerald City is an ideal fit for the “Junie B. Jones” series. Allison Gregory’s script seamlessly incorporates vocabulary, logic and messages of kindness and charity while entertaining with silly antics. Jacqueline Stone, who also serves as the company’s Education Director, uses the Apollo Theater space to maximum effect by having the cast run up and down aisles, utilize several entrances and exits and involve the youngest audience members in an easy, comfortable manner. Stone also keeps the show’s pace moving without being too frenetic: the blanket-toting toddler sitting next to me was completely absorbed in the action.

Michelle Lilly, who artfully conjured an awkward funeral home reunion in New Leaf’s Burying Miss America (our review), does stunning things on a shoestring, infusing the stage with bright primary colors and cheerful shapes, replicating the cardboard set pieces of a school play gone awry with panache. Sound designer Joe Court has a lot of fun with a recurring cue that leaves kids and adults giggling. And costume designer Branimira Ivanova (assisted by Amber Wutke) deserves accolades for flouncy chiffon, aqua overalls and sequined holiday sweaters galore.

A scene from Emerald City Theatre's "Junie B. Jones," adapted by Allison Gregory and Directed by Jacqueline Stone. A scene from Emerald City Theatre's "Junie B. Jones," adapted by Allison Gregory and Directed by Jacqueline Stone.
A scene from Emerald City Theatre's "Junie B. Jones," adapted by Allison Gregory and Directed by Jacqueline Stone. A scene from Emerald City Theatre's "Junie B. Jones," adapted by Allison Gregory and Directed by Jacqueline Stone.

The show’s excellent cast maintains a high level of enthusiasm, not to mention strong physicality. Amber Robinson shines in the title role, from her messy head of hair to her sneakered feet. As befuddled Mr. Scary, Anderson Lawfer transports older audience members back to a time when a man with a mustache was automatically a little bit intimidating. In turn, Michael Leon’s lively music teacher Mr. Toot transports back to a time when a man with a bow tie was automatically someone you wanted to be around. Kaitlyn Griggs plays rich girl Lucille with squeaky relish and twirls with aplomb in her many fluffy skirts. Tattletale May, the classmate everyone wants to hate, is equally maddening and vulnerable thanks to Samantha Perry’s loving interpretation.

When a certain sassy six-year-old is around, life gets a little more vibrant. In Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!, Emerald City Theatre combines a sweet and smart script, confident direction, strong production elements and giddy actors to illustrate the true meaning of Christmas. Giving never looked so good.

  
Rating: ★★★½
  
   

Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! continues through January 8th at Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln (map), with performances Wednesday thru Sunday.  Tickets are $13 for kids, $16 for adults, and are available by phone (773-935-6100) or online at ticketmaster.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at emeraldcitytheatre.com(Running time: 1 hour with no intermission)

A scene from Emerald City Theatre's "Junie B. Jones," adapted by Allison Gregory and Directed by Jacqueline Stone.


     

artists

cast

Amber Robinson (Junie B. Jones), Samantha Perry (May), Kaitlyn Griggs (Lucille, Elf Ellen), Anderson Lawfer (Mr. Scary), Aaron Lawson (Herb, Grampa Miller), Michael Leon (Jose, Mr. Toot), Ricky Harris (Sheldon, Philip Jonny Bob)

behind the scenes

Jacqueline Stone (director), Jake Lindquist (asst. director), Wain Parham (music director), Navi Afshar (stage manager), Meg Lindsey (asst. stage manager), Catherine Smyka (dramaturg), Michelle Lilly (set), Joel William Lambie (props), Joe Court (sound), Keith Parham and Margaret Hartmann (lighting), Branimira Ivanova (costumes), Amber Wutke (asst. costumes)

     

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Category: 2011 Reviews, Apollo Theater, Children's Theatre, Emerald City Theatre, Holiday Show, Lauren Emily Whalen

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