Kids gone wild
Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business
Sacramento, CA 95814
The B Street Theatre’s Family Series kicks off its fall season with a frenetic production of a musical based on a favorite children’s book series: the adventures of unconventional kindergartner Junie B. Jones. The books are (according to a schoolteacher source) incredibly popular with beginning readers.
Played by Kathy Morrison, who at times seemed to be channeling the late comedic genius Gilda Radner, Junie B. Jones is the undisputed star of, well, the world. Combining gangly physical comedy with Emily Litella-like misunderstandings and the sort of naive self-centeredness that is only cute in the under-10 set, Morrison’s controlled hyperactivity makes the irrepressible Junie B. irresistibly loveable. With all the physical hyperactivity and over-active imagination of a 5-year-old, Junie B. dominates the stage—so much so that the audiences’ real 5-year-olds were too enthralled to wiggle. Now that’s a successful children’s show.
The songs are a bit on the soupy, simplistic side, though certainly catchy. It’s the jokes and the physical comedy that work for the grown-ups in the audience. While the younger set will be thrilled to see one of their favorite literary characters so well embodied, the adults will find plenty to chuckle about in the honesty with which so much about family life is revealed. For instance, when her mother says “We’ll see,” Junie B. turns to the audience and informs them, that means “No.”
The other actors who portrayed children—Sene Goss as That Grace, Rick Kleber as Meanie Jim, Connor Mickiewicz as Crybaby William, and Alisha Giampola as Lucille (several also doubled as adults)—did a creditable job of shedding their adult skins to step up as Junie’s friends. However, her interactions with adults seemed much more realistic, if only because her precocious, abrasive nature was allowed to shine through. Or perhaps it’s just that the adults had much less believable (and much more patronizing) lines. With such boring adults around her, where did a kid like Junie B. come from? The most fascinating grown-up in the play, Lucille’s Nana, never appears on stage, yet is a fully realized character, complete with a world-view that a mercenary would love.
In spite of all the kinetic activity, the real highlight of the show is the wordplay. The conflict is based on Junie’s misunderstanding of some common figures of speech, and the playful cascade of language culminates in a production number titled “Words! Words! Words!”
Junie B. Jones is nothing short of a giggle-fest set to music.