- The Washington Times - Friday, July 18, 2003

According to the school principal (Steve Wannall), Junie B. Jones (Sherri L. Edelen) is “a resident of Goony Bird Lane.” Her teacher (Sandra L. Murphy) reaches for a bottle of aspirin at the very mention of her name, and her mother (Toni Rae Brotons) sighs at her daughter’s latest scrapes and schemes.

Not that there’s anything horribly wrong with Junie B.

She’s not the bad seed, but your typical kindergartner — definite, defiant, outspoken and basically tromping through life with spirit and merriment. She wants to reorganize the world “according to me,” and she’s not above calling someone a “dumb bunny” when the situation merits.

Even though Junie B. spends more time in the principal’s office than in the classroom, she has her fans. Among them are her “bestest” friend, That Grace (Monique L. Midgette), who is justifiably proud of her new pink high-top sneakers; her other friend Lucille (Miss Brotons, in a dual role), every ginghamed inch a fussy princess-in-training; and her Grandpa Miller (Michael L. Forrest), who has entrusted Junie B. with his beloved tool belt so she can help him out with odd jobs on Saturday mornings.

In “Junie B. Jones & a Little Monkey Business,” Junie faces the most daunting challenges of her 6-year-old life — the impending arrival of a new baby brother or sister, and what to bring to show and tell.

Will Junie B. barrel through these obstacles with her trademark honesty, ingenuity and irresistible scrappiness? Of course she will, in the process getting into a pickle or two because of what she describes as “my big fat mouth.”

Joan Cushing, known to Washington audiences as Mrs. Foggybottom, wrote the music, lyrics and book for this delightful, Crayola-bright musical for children and any adult who remembers what it was like to be a loud, proud kindergartner.

The songs are plucky and upbeat, teaching lessons about adapting to change, uncertainty, familial love and friendship and accepting different personalities without being pedantic or cloying. The rhymes are fun and offbeat — teaming “princes” with “chintzes” is one example — and the overall effect is one of both sunshine and sophistication. It is unfortunate music so tuneful has to rely on canned accompaniment.

While the choreography by Michael J. Bobbin is simple, it is catchy and effective — capturing Junie B.’s messy magnificence, Lucille’s ladylike demeanor and That Grace’s fiery athleticism.

Director Kathryn Chase Bryer keeps the action as bouncy and energetic as an episode of “Dora the Explorer,” but some of the show’s finest moments are the more subdued. Clutching her plush elephant for comfort, Junie B. lies in bed alone and sings “Which Number Will I Be?” a sweet and completely honest lament about losing your status in the family.

For evoking good feelings, you can’t beat the duet between Junie B. and Grandpa Miller as they fix the upstairs toilet together, a chore Junie B. calls “a dream come true.” There is a rousing gospel-inspired finish, “Words,” in which the troupe explains through song and dance the dangers and joys of phrases with double meanings.

“Junie B. Jones” may be geared to children, but there is nothing child-size about the talent. Miss Edelen must remember vividly what it was like to be 6, so complete and winning is her transformation into the bossy Junie B.

You nearly forget she’s an adult, watching her stomp around the stage, twirling her skirt and putting her sweater over her head to hide out when she has misbehaved. Miss Edelen’s Broadway-caliber voice is also put to good use in the show’s brisk score.

She is surrounded by considerable talent, from Miss Brotons as the dulcet, doo-wop-voiced Lucille to Miss Midgette and the infectious joy in her portrayal of That Grace. Miss Murphy pulls out all the stops as the break-dancing teacher in the finale, and Mr. Forrest is the ideal Grandpa — tender and loyal.

“Junie B. Jones & a Little Monkey Business” revels in the noisy, smelly, giggly glories of what it’s like to be a child.

***1/2

WHAT: “Junie B. Jones & a Little Monkey Business” by Joan Cushing, based on the book by Barbara Park

WHERE: Imagination Stage, 4908 Auburn Ave., Bethesda

WHEN: 10:30 a.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 1:30 p.m. extra show Thursdays, 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 17.

TICKETS: $10, groups of 10 or more $9

PHONE: 301/280-1660

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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