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.

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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 shortened 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 or at the box office.

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