Lyric Theatre’s upcoming production of Junie B. Jones: The Musical highlights the trials of elementary school 

click to enlarge Micah Marine plays Herb in Junie B. Jones: The Musical. | Photo KO Rinearson / Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma / provided
  • ©2018 KO Rinearson
  • Micah Marine plays Herb in Junie B. Jones: The Musical. | Photo KO Rinearson / Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma / provided

First grade is a time full of firsts: classes, changes and friendships. For years, elementary-age students have had a fictional everywoman with whom they could (literally) commiserate about these new experiences: Junie B. Jones. The titular character of Barbara Park’s children’s books now comes to life onstage in Junie B. Jones: The Musical running through March 25 at Lyric Theatre, 1727 NW 16th St. Tickets are $25-$40. Call 405-524-9312 or visit lyrictheatreokc.com.

Comprised of events drawn from four of Park’s books, Junie B. Jones: The Musical begins as Junie starts first grade and grapples with a series of life changes. Her friend Lucille won’t talk to her, and Junie experiences vision problems and can’t read the board. Consequently, she has to wear glasses, and although she’s mortified in the short-term, her trademark purple frames become an indispensable part of her iconography.

“It’s her growing up,” said director Ashley Wells. “I love the books myself. When I had little kids, they really enjoyed them. It’s fun when you’ve read something to actually see it come to life.”

Junie B. Jones will run at Lyric partly because of the success of another book-to-stage production last year, James and the Giant Peach. It was Lyric’s first Theater for Young Audiences (TYA) production and has inspired an initiative to put on a TYA show each year.

“We can reach that younger audience and give families an opportunity to bring their [children] that they might not normally take to the theater,” Wells said.

In addition to themes of change and growth, young viewers can also watch Junie as she learns to accept herself and others as well as things that might be hard or frustrating.

“How do you deal with disappointment when you’re not picked for the kickball team or when you’re not good enough? How do you deal with that?” Wells said of the show’s thematic arc.

Perhaps unlike her audience, Junie learns and expresses through song, such as in “When Life Gives You Lemons, You Make Lemonade,” a tune that demonstrates the musical’s blend of realism and optimism.

Just as the show spans a wide range of Junie’s experiences, so too do the musical’s songs reflect a similar variety. They pull from various genres such as country, ragtime, rock and doo-wop, Wells said.

“It will appeal to everybody. Adults will hear the different genres, whereas the kids are just going to think it’s fun,” she said.

click to enlarge Kristin Küns plays Junie B. Jones and Mahalia Gronigan plays Mother in Junie B. Jones: The Musical. | Photo KO Rinearson / Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma / provided
  • ©2018 KO Rinearson
  • Kristin Küns plays Junie B. Jones and Mahalia Gronigan plays Mother in Junie B. Jones: The Musical. | Photo KO Rinearson / Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma / provided

Musical melodrama

Although the songs are accessible and kid-friendly, Wells said the harmonies are intricate and require a great deal of work from the six-person cast. With sixteen characters, the show also presents challenges when it comes to blocking, timing and quick costume changes.

“We will have boys playing girls, girls playing boys,” Wells said. “It’s fun for the actors and for myself, as the director, to help them find that different character and how [to] make that switch.”

Bringing the world of first grade to the stage also required Wells to work closely with the design team at Lyric for costumes and set pieces, using the books as reference points.

In order to preserve a kind of realism but also create the feeling of the larger-than-life world that first grade can sometimes be, Wells said the show plays with scale.

“Everything is just a little bit overlarge, a little bit overemphasized,” Wells said. “Brighter colors, more patterns on costumes; the glasses are maybe just a little bit bigger than they would actually be.”

Kristin Küns, who plays Junie B. Jones, will wear a large, red-orange wig and lots of brightly colored clothes to bring the character to life.

“I have stars on my outfit and just every color in the rainbow. It’s like a neon party. It’s so cool to see the costumes on all of us because it puts us back into that world,” Küns said.

Beyond the costuming, Küns said that the role of Junie also required a youthful physicality.

“With a role like this, I think so much of it just has to come from the inner child and allowing yourself to have fun and being connected to the playfulness of your spirit,” Küns said. “She’s very physical—getting in touch with your body and being physical with the character, I think that helps bring forth emotion as well.”

Küns, who studied acting at Oklahoma City University, grew up reading Park’s books. As a self-professed ornery and imaginative child, Küns found Junie relatable — something she can now channel into her performance.

“She was that person I looked to in my childhood. I was a very distracted child in school,” Küns said. “I was always daydreaming. … I felt a personal connection to her.”

A personal connection to Junie B. is no doubt one of the primary reasons for the book series’ enduring legacy spanning over two decades, from 1992 to 2013. For Wells, the musical encapsulates the childhood tendency toward melodrama.

“When you are a first-grader, everything is the best it ever was,” Wells said. “Every event is the best thing ever, and every stumble or fall you take is tragic, of epic proportions.”

Junie, as a precocious first-grader, might feel everything strongly, but that’s partially because the world she encounters isn’t always positive. The show, because it highlights extremity, validates the difficulties of entering the world as a young person.

“She speaks her mind. She says exactly what she thinks, and she’s very authentic to who she is,” Wells said. “Not everything’s rosy for her in the show. You see her disappointments, and you see her getting in trouble, and you see kids not being nice to her.”

But Junie begins the lifelong process of learning about herself, of forging friendships (as with her new pal Herb) and adjusting to the world as seen through a different lens.

“In this time and age,” Wells said, “it will be fun to see a young girl learn how to maneuver first grade.”

Visit lyrictheatreokc.com.

Print headline: Elementary emotion, Lyric Theatre’s upcoming production of Junie B. Jones: The Musical highlights the trials of elementary school.

Pin It
Favorite

Speaking of...

More by Ian Jayne

About The Author

Ian Jayne

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in Community & Lifestyle

Readers also liked…

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: Oklahoma is Black Exhibition @ Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: Oklahoma is Black Exhibition @ Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center

Ancient. Massive. Wild. - The Bison Exhibit @ National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Ancient. Massive. Wild. - The Bison Exhibit @ National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

View all of today's events »

OKG Social

OKG Media Feed

© 2019 Oklahoma Gazette / Tierra Media Inc. All rights reserved.
REPRODUCTION OF CONTENT IN ANY MANNER WITHOUT PERMISSION IS PROHIBITED.
TO OBTAIN PERMISSION, CONTACT US

Powered by Foundation