Spunky ‘Junie B. Jones: The Musical’ views first-grade angst through purple-colored glasses

By Lorien Strange
©2024 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Bursting off the page and off the oversized pop-up book version of a first-grader’s journal that forms the set, Junie B. Jones: The Musical follows its sensitive and spunky character as she navigates the social challenges of first grade. The 60-minute Weston Theater Company production is being performed free of charge at venues throughout southern Vermont by the Weston’s Young Company.

Maya L ‘Abbe’s Junie B. Jones celebrates getting her first pair of glasses with her classmates. All photos for Weston Theater Company by Owen Leavey.

Although the musical is based on the bestselling chapter books by Barbara Park, kids don’t need to read the books to enjoy Junie B.’s relatable struggles to make friends and feel special.

First grade comes with lots of changes, ranging from the annoying to the downright scary —  although teacher Mr. Scary is the least of Junie B.’s worries: “I think he made that name up,” she explains. Junie B.’s quick temper and desire to be the star of the school often leave her feeling left out, and her struggles to handle her disappointment while staying on good terms with her classmates are vividly animated but not overacted by a squealing, pirouetting and pouting Maya L’Abbe.

When both her best friend and her bus friend from kindergarten suddenly leave her so they can play with other girls, Junie B. becomes friends with smitten new kid Herb, played by wistfully energetic Aidan Curley. She copes with not getting a cookie in her packed lunch like the kids who bought lunch at school by helping the beloved lunch lady clean the cafeteria, and she makes up for an injury stopping her from competing in the kickball tournament by learning to juggle for its halftime show.

It’s not just the story that allows kids to see through Junie B.’s purple glasses-adorned eyes. Costume designer Summer Lee Jack’s chunky pastel wigs made me empathize perfectly with Junie B.’s impulse to reach out and touch her classmates’ fabulously textured hair. Scene transitions were equally amusing as actors turned the pages of Junie B.’s Top Secret Personal Beeswax journal to reveal her illustrations that become each scene, a simple and colorful effect by set designer Maggie Jackson.

Junie B. shows off her juggling skills during the kickball tournament halftime show.

I was sitting on the leftmost edge of one of the middle rows, and the lack of mics meant that I was often straining to hear the dialogue. It also meant that I missed the full effect of the choreography, which looked as though it had been designed for an inside venue where the audience would be seated directly in front of the stage.

Individually, Maya L ‘Abbe as Junie B. and Mayumi Rhone as bossy-britches May made full use of the space to engage the entire audience, and the whole company worked well together to maintain a genuine enthusiasm for the performance through the show, even when the audience was distracted by a few drops of rain, sudden heat or an interesting bug. Director Kate Galvin is no stranger to creating engaging show for young audiences, having previously directed Matilda and Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus.

In a show that tended to celebrate differences, the production’s treatment of a character’s dietary needs was disappointing. Wiping his nose on his T-shirt sleeve, Sheldon explains that he brings his lunch from home because he’s “allergic to fake meat and … I’m allergic to dairy,” and his parents only let him eat food “from nature.” In the first graders’ ode to their favorite lunchlady, Sheldon adds to the praise that “if you’re lactose intolerant, she’ll substitute the cheese!” The other characters respond with exaggerated gagging. Unlike when Junie gets glasses or Jose accidentally greets the class in Spanish instead of English, no one suggests that Sheldon’s differences might require a little more compassion.

Junie B.’s parents sing to encourage her to make lemonade out of life’s lemons.

The scene is played for laughs, but it feels jarringly insensitive in a play that mostly does a wonderful job of validating everyone’s desire to feel seen and accepted.

Weston Young Company’s heartwarming production lasts 60 minutes with no intermission. The Young Company tour of Junie B. Jones is performed outdoors, so bring your own seating or a blanket to sit on.  While there is no charge, the Weston Theater Company does ask that you reserve your seating online. You can do so by clicking here.

Junie B. Jones will be performed at three other venues in southern Vermont before returning to Weston’s Walker Farm through July 7. Each stop has an inside venue in case of rain, but since Jersey Boys is using the Walker Farm stage, Weston performances have no rain location. Below are the remaining show days, times and locations.

  • Friday, June 28  – 5 p.m.  Riverside Park, Springfield
  • Saturday, June 29 — 4 p.m.  Manchester Community Library Field
  • Sunday, June 30  4 p.m.  Next Stage, Putney
  • Tuesday, July 2 — 11 a.m.  Walker Farm in Weston
  • Wednesday, July 3 —  11 a.m.  Walker Farm
  • Thursday, July 4 11 a.m.  Walker Farm
  • Friday, July 5 11 a.m.  Walker Farm
  • Saturday, July 6 | 11 a.m.  Walker Farm
  • Sunday, July 7 —  11 a.m.  Walker Farm
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