Saturday’s lively musical performance of “Junie B. Jones” at the H. Ric Luhrs Center drew crowds of children and die-hard “Junie B. Jones” fans of all ages.
The award-winning Theaterworks USA production is based on the wildly popular series of children’s books by Barbara Park.
Before the performance, I met with junior reporter Donovan Yaukey, a fourth–grader at Grace B. Luhrs Elementary School.
Nine-year-old Yaukey is quite an expert on musicals, having seen at least 150 shows and performed in seven local productions.
We had time for a quick Q&A session with star of the show Erika Santosuosso, who played Junie B. Jones. Santosuosso has been performing since the age of 13 and has a bachelor of fine arts degree in acting. Santosuosso said her childlike sense of humor helped her land the role of Junie B. Jones.
Santosuosso also said the keys to building a successful acting career are having a willingness to work hard and learn new things, being polite and having lots of stamina.
Santosuosso was supported by a cast of five talented actors who play multiple roles as they dance and sing about the misadventures of first grade to upbeat songs with a “shooby-doo-wop” chorus.
The show opened with Junie popping out of a large-scale “Top-Secret Personal Beeswax Journal” covered in stickers and doodles and bound together with padlocked rubber bands.
The gigantic journal functions as the backdrop for the rest of the show, giving the impression that all of the action on stage is coming straight from the book’s pages.
“Dear First-Grade Journal,” began Junie, whose excitement about starting first grade is dampened when her “BFF” from kindergarten, Lucille, replaces her with two new BFFs, Camille and Chenille.
Unfortunately, the three have no room for a friend with a name that does not rhyme. But when the new kid, Herbert, offers to sit by Junie on the bus, she discovers there are plenty of other kids to be friends with in first grade.
So the hilarious adventures begin.
When Junie cannot read the blackboard and has to get glasses, she is afraid the kids in Room 1 will tease her.
But as they take turns peering through her purple-rimmed glasses, the other kids discover that it must be really cool to see the world through Junie’s eyes.
Junie is sure she will be the star of the lunchroom when her classmates lay eyes on her sparkly, new lunchbox. Her hopes are dashed when her friends show zero interest.
But lunch lady Gladys Gutzman, aka the “Queen of Snacks,” cheers Junie up by making her the lunchroom greeter in charge of handing out napkins.
Junie, who aspires to be the “boss of lunch,” is overjoyed and quickly lets the authority go to her head.
After she gets mouthy and ruins lunch for the entire class, she learns that being the boss of sugar cookies is an even better job for her.
As first grade winds down and Room 1 prepares for the big kickball tournament, Junie is sidelined by a pinky toe injury, so she teams up with accident-prone Sheldon Potts to put on the “Super Duper Halftime Show.”
Junie desperately wants to be the star of the production and practices her new juggling act for a whole week.
But when the time to perform her act arrives, Junie loses her nerve and the unimpressed audience bombards her with biscuits.
In her indignation, Junie defiantly starts juggling the biscuits, proving to herself and everyone else that when she puts her mind to it, she can be the star of the show.
The musical ends as Junie closes the top-secret personal beeswax journal with a final song encouraging those in the audience to write down the stories of their lives too.