Review: Junie B Jones Takes Lemons and Makes Lemonade

by Deborah Marcininak – Speakeysie Contributer; photo credit-Kenadi Adams

We all remember those awkward moments in Elementary school when our best
friend finds new best friends; when we have a maddening crush on the new boy (or
girl) at school; when we awkwardly realize that our “show and tell” pick is not the
coolest choice.

Screenshot 2018-07-28 at 2.20.39 PM

From the opening number, “Top Secret Personal Beeswax”, Play on Players Petite
POPpers expertly take us back to those hilarious times of first grade when we
thought every moment was an “earth-shattering” event.
Karah Adams (Junie B. Jones) steps on stage and we instantly fall in love with the
Junie B. Jones character that we know so well from Barbara Park’s best-selling
books. This delightful musical adaptation, created specifically for Broadway Junior
performers by Music Theatre International, was brought to life by Marcy Heisler and
Zina Goldrich, creators of Dear Edwina and Dear Edwina Jr. The cast and crew of
Petite POPpers masterly captures the audience’s hearts with lovable characters, fun-
filled songs, and an exciting production.

The Ensemble is top-notch; in fact, they have such a professional flair that it’s hard
to believe you are watching elementary and middle schoolers! The first thing that is
noticeable is the various blends of harmonies when they sing. Kudos to Halli Rider
(Music Director) and a high schooler, who masterfully takes this group of more than
30 kids, and gives them notes to sing that are in their range and blend beautifully.

The second thing that clearly entertains and energizes you is the exhilarating
choreography by Kaitlin Gentry (Choreographer) and Jubilee Chastain (Student
Choreographer). Outstanding numbers include “Top Secret Personal Beeswax” and
“Lunchbox”. The other key component to this fantastic production is the creative use
of on-stage “alphabet” blocks and movement, which add various interest and levels to the
Ensemble. Through the use of unique blocking techniques, Heidi Rider (Director)
expertly transforms a classroom into a bus, a halftime field, and a
cafeteria.

You’ve heard of the “triple threat” as it refers to performers. Well, the
three Petite POPpers Directors, Heidi, Kaitlin, and Halli, are truly the “triple threats”
of theatre Directors…taking acting, dance and voice to a new level of
professionalism within children’s theatre.
There are several key-noteworthy performers who deserve to be recognized.
Karah Adams’ interpretation of the quirky and cute Junie B. Jones is superb. She
brings memorable expressions, sassy dance moves, excellent characterization, high-
energy and a sweet voice that rounds up her nearly flawless performance.

Another key-notable performer is Holden Shanks (Herbert). From the first
moment he sings “You can be my friend”, you are taken back by his crisp, clear and strong vocals. But Holden is more than an impressive voice; his dancing rivals any
young Broadway star, and he has a stage presence that draws your eye to him.

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Other stand-out performances are from Andrew Pijanowski (Sheldon), Mara Eva
Cline (Camille), Ian Johnson (Daddy) and Clara Waters (Ensemble). Andrew takes
the vulnerable character of Sheldon and brings him to life with great
characterization, especially in the number “Sheldon Potts’ Halftime Show”. Mara Eva
has a killer high-kick that rivals any Rockette, and she is always in character with
her peppy and sweet attitude as Camille. Ian skillfully shows a range of ages, from
being Junie B.’s mid-30’s Daddy to being a 7-year old first grader. His acting
techniques are impressive. Clara proves that you can be in Ensemble and still make a
difference. Wherever she moves, dances, acts, or sings on stage, you can’t take your
eyes off her. She is always in character and having fun.

They say a production is only as good as your tech team. If you can’t see or hear
the actors, the hours of rehearsal time and hard work go unnoticed. This production
of “Junie B. Jones” brings a creative look of lighting in every scene, thanks to the
talents of Grant Key (Lighting), a student at UNG. The sound mix was impressive and
overseen by Kayna Adams and Grace Dorminy, both student interns.

The award-winning Play on Players Petite POPpers has once again assembled an
outstanding cast and crew to produce an entertaining and flawless production. They
will be taking a shorten version of Junie B. Jones to the Junior Theatre Festival in
Altanta in January, 2019. If it’s anything like the quality of this production, the group
will surely receive a notable award!

Junie B Jones runs for 3 more performances, Saturday, July 27th at 2:30 PM and 7:30 PM, and Sunday, July 28th at 7:30 PM at Johnson High School in Gainesville, GA. Tickets are available online at playonplayers.com or at the box office.

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