Review: ‘Junie B. Jones the Musical’ at Theatre Aspen
If You Go …
What: ‘Junie B. Jones the Musical,’ presented by Theatre Aspen
Where: Hurst Theatre, Rio Grande Park
When: Through Aug. 15
Junie B. Jones has a journal and a new school year ahead of her.
“Now all I need is some adventures,” she declares at the outset of “Junie B. Jones the Musical,” running at Theatre Aspen’s Hurst Theatre through Aug. 15.
Over the next hour, the colorful children’s show follows our peppy heroine through the ups and downs of first grade — from deciding what to draw during drawing time to finding out she needs glasses to navigating cafeteria politics.
The enthusiastic young cast of eight includes Aspen’s Lyon Hamill and is led by Gianna Yanelli in a pitch-perfect turn as the rambunctious Junie. Clad in red overalls, purple tights and Chuck Taylors, Junie records all of the first-grade drama (her “top secret personal beeswax”) in a marble composition notebook. The set itself is literally an open book, too, converting into a classroom and cafeteria, among other settings, in the first fully-staged production of the show outside of New York.
Based on the popular books by Barbara Park, there’s plenty of silly, kid-pleasing fun to be had in songs like “Lucille, Camille, Chenile,” in which Junie’s best friend from kindergarten (a catty Kelsey Schergen) ditches her for a pair of new besties, proclaiming, “You’re a pretty good friend/And we had good times/But what can compare with a friend that rhymes?”
The show chronicles the joys of a school kickball tournament — extolled in two songs — and there’s an ode to the lunch lady, Mrs. Gutzman, the “queen of snacks.” She’s played winningly by Joe Bettles, who earns laughs from children as well as adults for his cross-dressing turn (and his slapsticky takes on Junie’s dad and her teacher, Mr. Scary).
“Junie B. Jones” has its share of poignant moments, as well, exemplified in the wonderful closing number, “Writing Down the Story of My Life,” which comes as Junie finishes filling her journal and reflects on the joy of self-expression.
The grammatical and spelling controversies surrounding the “Junie” books is sort of beside the point here. Other than some double negatives and a misuse of “good” as an adverb, Junie sets a fine example (grammatical and otherwise) for the show’s primary audience — children aged 4 to 8 — and she speaks like them.
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