THIS WEEKEND, Savannah Children’s Theatre will bring one of children’s literature’s most-loved heroines to the stage.
Junie B. Jones, a precocious “almost six-year-old,” navigates her world with hilarity and honesty. Author Barbara Park and illustrator Denise Brunkus’s treasured series, which includes 28 books published by Random House from 1992 to 2013, speaks to kids—and kids-at-heart—of all ages. Savannah Children’s Theatre offer a fresh new view of Jones in the form of a musical.
“It’s one of the most fun shows we’ve done in a long time,” says director Jenn Doubleday. “We do a lot of storybook shows, being a children’s theatre. This one’s really striking a chord with me. It’s very high-energy and honest. I think it’ll be a lot of fun.”
Junie B. Jones: The Musical combines several storylines from her books into one production.
“It’s a bunch of different stories blended together to be about what it’s like to be in first grade,” Doubleday explains.
The cast represents roughly half returning Children’s Theatre performers and half new stars.
“There are kids that have done shows together or been in classes here before, and we have kids who have never been onstage before,” Doubleday says. They’re all learning how to do the show together. One of the great things about community theatre is that every show is different. Whether you’re a novice or veteran, you still have to learn it together.”
The group is already bonding and finding camaraderie onstage and off.
“By and large, I feel like the kids are expanding their community and making new friends by being a part of this show,” Doubleday says proudly. “The first day of rehearsal, everyone was shy and quiet, sitting with one chair between them. Now, we can’t get them away from each other!”
The inherently fun nature of the script, complemented by a dynamic soundtrack, helped the cast get in the spirit of the show. Junie B. Jones: The Musical was created by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, the team behind the children’s one-hour musical Dear Edwina. Both Heisler and Goldrich have backgrounds in cabaret, and the music is reflective of that history. Upbeat and catchy songs move the production along, and Doubleday say the tone is an “easy rock” feel.
“The music is fantastic,” she shares. “There’s a lot of grooving and a lot of twisting happening!”
One of the trademarks of Junie’s story is her authentic way of speaking. In her dialogue, the protagonist talks in the manner that a real child would, often mixing up words or pronouncing them incorrectly. When the series became popular, that dialogue was very controversial—the series was often banned or challenged for Junie’s poor grammar and mouthiness.
“I think that’s one of the most unique things about it,” counters Doubleday. “Junie B. Jones and her friends speak like young children. Since we have 11-year-olds playing six-year-olds, they want to speak more correctly than the way the dialogue was written. But we are really staying true to the original dialogue. So it’s not ‘spaghetti and meatballs,’ it’s ‘paghetti and meatballs!’ We’re making sure the kids stay kids. Which, in this day and age, is so hard to do, and so important to try to do.”
Junie B. Jones herself is played by Camille Carlton, making her Savannah Children’s Theatre debut. After moving to Savannah from California, Carlton attended summer camp at the theatre.
“She’s knocking it out of the park,” Doubleday attests.
The production is a unique opportunity to showcase a rare kind of character, and the love is evident: Savannah Children’s Theatre had more auditions for this show than they ever have for a fall production.
“It is because Junie B. Jones gets upset, and gets angry, and gets bossy, and doesn’t hide her feelings,” Doubleday says. “She gets happy, and she doesn’t hide her feelings. She lives out loud, and so many girl characters aren’t allowed to do that. She’s such a wonderful character to see come to life.”
The Theatre looks forward to presenting a modern literary classic, which fits perfectly into their theatrical legacy.
“Junie B. Jones has such a special place in the hearts of kids from the ‘90s through the present day,” Doubleday says. “We tend to do a lot of children’s books—classics from the 1960s or earlier—but we feel like this is a contemporary classic. It really rings true to [the kids]. They enjoy the sense of humor, Junie’s sassiness and boldness. She’s just a great character.”