Story and photos By Mike Gesler
If you missed LionHeart Production’s latest show, “Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook,” at the Grant Public Schools Fine Arts Center last weekend, you are in luck. LionHeart is taking the show to the Dogwood Center for Performing Arts this coming weekend, March 24 and 25.
Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones book series has become a popular read among young children over the past twenty-six years. Her antics and capriciousness have enthralled the imagination of both children and adults alike. In this story line something terrible has happened to Junie B. Jones at school. Someone has “stoled” her new furry mittens. Yet, at the same time, she faces an ethical dilemma when she finds a wonderful pen of many colors that she should be allowed to keep because “finders keepers, losers weepers.” Just to complicate matters, there is this new boy in kindergarten. The only thing is that both her best friends, Grace and Lucille, want him to be their boyfriend, and Junie B. already has a boyfriend, Ricardo, but is looking to “move on.” All of this leaves Junie B. in a moral quandary; is she a crook, or not?
Junie B. Jones is played by Grant sixth grader, Ava Dewey. Dewey is the quintessential Junie B., and I would dare anyone who has read the books to say likewise. She marvelously endears herself with the audience all the while keeping up with the physical energy demanded from this role, and the abrupt emotional shifts that are so true-to-life of any six-year-old child.
Addyson Gorby and Sophia Fries play the roles of Junie B.’s best friends, Grace and Lucille. Each possess traits that Junie B. secretly desires, and the two are as believable as Dewey. The three, Junie B., Grace, and Lucille, fight over Handsome Warren, played by Steven Sower, who has no desire for a “girlfriend.” Yet, the petty infighting is comical, if not true-to-life brought down to a kindergarten level, as Grace believes boys are attracted to sports and snakes, Lucille believes it is wealth and looks, and Junie B. struggles with being herself. Gorby, Fries, and Sower all play their roles beautifully against Dewey, and bring out their character’s personality so effectively you might wonder if these young thespians were type casted.
The cast is rounded out with Lincoln Railing, playing Junie B.’s boyfriend, Ricardo, Evan McKnight who plays Meanie Jim, and Ella Shields as the Pink Fluffy Girl. Railing does a wonderful job playing the cute “kindergarten” crush which is nothing more than a friend, and if I didn’t know better, I would totally believe that McKnight IS the class bully who constantly finds ways to get Junie B.’s goat. Shields charmingly blends herself in as just another student with her important yet unassuming role.
Siena Avendaño, Philicity Bass, Ella Brummel, Maggie Muir, Marcie Sower, and Liegha Winkler finish this young cast as a choir that mysteriously appears and performs during Junie B.’s daydreams.
It’s said that you should never act against children or animals, so the adults in this cast are unfortunately . . . or fortunately . . . relegated to supporting roles. Shelly Patterson plays the role of Mrs. Junie B.’s frustrated teacher, Jodie Railling is Junie’s caring and supportive mother, Jamie Evans plays the understanding Grandpa Frank, and a pair of Melissas, Brock and Bass, play the Grouchy Typing Lady and Principal.
The production is a delight for kids and grown-ups alike. Even if you have never heard of the Junie B. Jones book series, and I admit I knew nothing, you will find yourself taken in by this delightful tale of kindergarten life. Shows times are 2:00 pm on both Saturday, March 24, and Sunday, March 25. Tickets for Junie B. Jones can be purchased at the Dogwood Center Box Office, online line at www.dogwoodcenter.com, or by calling 231-924-8885. Ticket prices are $12 adult, $8 students and seniors (60+), and $5 children 10 years and under.
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