Reviewed by Katherine O’Donnell
Once again, Virginia Rep has produced an outstanding show of family fun. Junie B. Jones: The Musical is a foot-tapping, high-energy show that is a crowd pleaser. While it was great for the whole family, which in our case includes Norah who is seven and Henry who is four, it was a real homerun for Norah and her friend Gabby, both second-graders.
Gabby and Norah, who have been buds since first grade and have read some of the Junie B. Jones books, were head over heels for the main character herself played by Audrey Kate Taylor in her fifth Virginia Rep production. As the only kid in the show, Audrey brought the quirky, smart and sometimes awkward Junie B. Jones to life.
The story begins with the lively number “The Top Secret Personal Beeswax” about Junie B.’s diary. From there, we head straight into first grade and meet Junie B.’s classmates, played by adults who all capture the essence of various kid architypes. The hilariously bossy May (complete with crowd-control stick) played by Megan Tatum, the nerdy and accident-prone Sheldon played by Austin Taylor Smith, and the prissy Lucille, played by Grey Garrett are exactly like the kids in the book and kids in real-life classrooms.
The adult cast of only five rotates through twelve roles at lightning speed. Complete costume and character changes are done on the fly, one of the funniest being the prissy
and snobby Camille and Chenille played by the crossed dressed Austin Taylor Smith and Caleb Wade. Camille and Chenille have taken Junie B’s place as Lucille’s new “bestest” friends – because their names rhyme of course. As Junie B. is rejected by her old friend, we’re reminded of fickle childhood friendships and of the sting they can bring.
The show continues with number after number and very little dialogue, covering all the important first grade topics: the school bus, the lunchroom, and kickball. From time to time, Norah would nudge me and smile and nod. I could tell she was relating to every minute of it.
Interwoven through the typical life of a first grader (a new lunch box, show-and-tell) were themes of friendship and life lessons. We learn from Herb, played by the endearing and talented Caleb Wade, how to make new friends and how to stand up for a friend when Junie B. gets glasses and is teased. We learn from Junie B’s father, played by Thomas E. Nowlin (who also plays the teacher, the bus driver, and the lunch lady) to make lemonade out of lemons. When Junie B. hurts her toe and cannot play in the school kickball tournament, he teaches her to juggle so she can participate in the halftime show. This part especially hit close to home for Norah who cut her toe the second week of school this year requiring stitches, purple bandages, and some extra attention from her classmates.
The show wraps up with a fun finale encouraging the audience to write down the story of their lives just like Junie B. Jones. Because after all, adventure awaits.
And adventure awaits families who reserve time to see Junie B. Jones: The Musical. The runs through November 20 at Virginia Rep’s Children’s Theatre at Willow Lawn. For showtimes and ticketes, click here.
Katherine O’Donnell lives in Henrico County with her husband, Darby, their children, and a cat. She’s an avid RVA fan and a University of Richmond graduate. A North Carolina native, she says y’all regularly and believes snow is always an occasion to celebrate.