Junie B. Jones goes from page to stage at Theatre Aspen
If You Go …
What: “Junie B. Jones the Musical,” presented by Theatre Aspen
Where: Hurst Theatre, Rio Grande Park
When: Monday, June 29, 10 a.m. and 7 p.m.; through Aug. 15
Cost: $25 and up
“Junie B. Jones the Musical” opens Monday at Theatre Aspen, in the first fully staged production of the show outside of New York City, where it launched an Off-Broadway run at TheatreWorks in Greenwich Village in 2004 that ran for 11 years.
The director and choreographer behind the New York production, Devanand Janki, is in Aspen adapting “Junie B. Jones” for its summer run at the Hurst Theatre.
Based on the enormously popular children’s book series by Barbara Park, the musical comedy follows Junie through first grade as she writes in her journal about finding new friends, wearing new glasses and braving a kickball tournament among other thorny childhood situations.
“It’s silly and funny and campy, but it has a great message about being creative,” said Janki. “I always tear up at the end.”
As soon as the rights for the show became available last year, Theatre Aspen artistic director Paige Price called the “Junie B. Jones” team and booked it for this summer’s season. Then she called Janki and asked him to come adapt it for her tent theater in Rio Grande Park.
“People in New York are all dying to work at Theatre Aspen now,” said Janki. “So I was excited to get the call.”
Janki’s cast and crew went to work at the beginning of June, reshaping the show for the thrust stage and intimate space of the Hurst. With a one-hour running time, it’s aimed at kids, but includes humor aimed for parents as well.
“It’s a misconception that kids’ theater is easy or that you can just phone it in,” he said. “This is a complex show with a lot of choreography. People will be surprised how sophisticated its humor is. … Creating good theater for kids is almost harder than for adults because you have to be honest with them and they get bored easily,”
Janki said doing shorter shows for a family audience has improved his work in theater for grown-ups, disciplining him to trim it and keep the storytelling efficient.
For theater as an art form and as an industry, quality children’s shows essential because they inspire a new generation of audiences. Janki began his work with the Theatre Aspen cast by giving a short speech about that responsibility.
“Hopefully there are a few kids in the audience whose lives we can change,” he said. “That’s why I do this work.”
Kids need not have read any of the “Junie B. Jones” books to enjoy the show, though it may inspire them to begin doing so. At an early rehearsal, Janki said, a young castmember in the TA Apprentice program was double-booked for a babysitting gig. He brought his young charge to sit in on the rehearsal, and she has since started ripping through the “Junie” books.
The show stars newcomer Gianna Yanelli as Junie, with Spencer Hansen as Herb, the new kid in school, among a cast of eight that doubles and triples up their roles for the show.
Monday’s opening night performance will begin at 7 p.m. The rest of the shows in the seven-week run will begin at 10 a.m.
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