The holidays have descended upon first-grade Room One and Junie B. Jones (Casie Platt) is of two minds.
On the one hand, she is giddier than Scrooge on Christmas morning with the prospect of the school’s holiday gift shop, which contains such delights as unsullied crayons and the ultimate embodiment of the true meaning of Christmas, the Squeeze-A-Burp toy.
On the other hand, the upcoming Holiday Sing-Along fills her with anxiety—what if it is a repeat of the comically disastrous Columbus Day skit, when the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria crash-landed in a heap of tears and crumpled construction paper? And then there’s the class Secret Santa gift exchange, another source of Junie B.’s jitters.
Holiday preparations, candy canes and snowflake drawings mingle with tattletales, greedmeisters and germ-o-phobes in Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!, a delightful antidote to the traditional schmaltzy Christmas show based on the popular Junie B. Jones book series.
Adapted by Allison Gregory and directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer, Junie B. captures the crayon-bright chaos of childhood—enhanced by Ethan Sinott’s primary color schoolroom set–and portrays the first-grade set as they truly are—sometimes petty, sometimes aggravating, always worth your time.
Junie B., as deftly realized by Miss Platt, is a bundle of quirky contradictions. Grammar makes her head explode, but she is uncannily bright and insightful about grown-up behavior, especially that of her much put-upon teacher, Mr. Scary (a stern but lovingly patient Eric M. Messner). She’s creative and imaginative—just witness her exchanges with her stuffed elephant Phillip—but also small-minded when it comes to her arch-nemesis, the blabby May (Rana Kay), and her holiday-motivated materialism, which causes her to manipulate her nice old grandpa (Rex Daugherty) and her classmates.
But what makes Junie B. so endearing are her imperfections and her undiluted joy in living life out loud. Although momentarily swayed by seasonal greed and nasty feelings for May, you know that Junie B. will figure it all out and do the right thing—in this case, avoiding being what she calls a “shellfish” person.
In her yellow crinolines and green tights poking out of a pink dress, Junie B. is a sight to behold and so are her fellow members of her classroom, especially the rich and lady-like Lucille (Jasmin Danielle Johnson), a haughty tot clad in 50s throwback frocks who is not above twirling her skirts to show off her frilly matching drawers.
Other indelible denizens of Room One include Junie’s sweet and goofy best friend Herb (Mr. Daugherty), the multilingual Jose (Linden Tailor), pouty goody-goody May, and most memorably, the gentle and strange Sheldon (Christopher Wilson), hilariously obsessed with germs and telling stories about his colorful family, including a tattooed, ex-con auntie. The actors create such polished, true-to-life portraits of first-graders you sometimes forget they are adults up there on stage.
Junie B. captivates both children and adults on a variety of levels. First, the youngsters are depicted in all their moment-to-moment glory—one minute picking on each other and squabbling, the next minute peacefully coloring side by side. Second, the incidental meanness of children is not glossed over in the interests of presenting heartwarming fare that idealizes behavior. And third, who doesn’t appreciate a dash of grossness—gloppy sneezes, reenactments of projectile vomiting episodes, and best of all, luxuriant burps that register high on the Richter scale.
“Burping is pure entertainment,” Junie B. opines. You could say the same about Imagination Stage’s first attempt at a holiday show.
Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells!
By Allison Gregory
Adapted from the Junie B. Jones books by Barbara Park
Directed by Kathryn Chase Bryer
Reviewed by Jayne Blanchard
Celia Wren . Washington Post