by Curt Holman
(Image courtesy of Synchronicity Performance Group)
Junie B. Jones can elicit both happiness and trepidation in the hearts of parents. I know at least one mom who wants to take her kids to see Synchronicity Performance Groupâs Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business!, a family musical based on the popular chapter book by Barbara Park. She may not be able to get in, though: Last I heard, tickets were nearly gone for the production, playing at 7 Stages Back Space theater through March 16.
Another mom friend, however, emphatically does not want to take her girls to the show, because she finds Junie B. Jones to be a bad influence. I appreciate that argument, so when I took my daughter last weekend, I knew we were running the risk that she could pick up a bad habit. Funny, bratty âanti-heroicâ girl characters like Kay Thompsonâs Eloise and Ian Falconerâs Olivia can thoroughly amuse all readers, but also give your kids some regrettable ideas for back talk or mischief.
Synchronicityâs Junie B. Jones features adult actors playing the kids and grown-up roles, with Bethany Lind portraying the hyperactive kindergartner of the title. Lindâs Junie comes across partly like a female Pee Wee Herman, partly like Gilda Radnerâs âJudy Miller Showâ character. The character has definite self-control problems, but fortunately my daughter hasn't turned into a Junie wannabe. (Yet. Knock wood.)
Junie B. Jones offers mild pleasures, but doesn't reach the level of the Synchronicity Family series' superb holiday show A Year with Frog and Toad or last yearâs more modestly enjoyable Miss Nelson Is Missing (another show adapted by Junie B. Jones playwright Joan Cushing).
The humor tends to be slightly ruder -- one musical number revolves around Junie helping her grandpa (Jeffrey Zwartjes) fix a toilet â- and the plot more flimsy. Trouble brews when Junie, jealous of her classmatesâ cool ideas for show-and-tell items, promises to bring in a furry animal that can run fast and wear karate clothes. When Junieâs mother gives birth to a baby and Grandma describes it as a âcute little monkey,â Junie brags that she has a brand-new "monkey brother."
Correcting Junie's mistake provides a thin message for a show that runs well over an hour, although it features some definite musical highlights, such as Junieâs marching-song proclamation about the joys of having a monkey brother. When Junieâs friend Just Grace (Nico Ward) sings a rave-up about her high-tops, some of the licks sound reminiscent of the Ramonesâ âI Wanna Be Sedated.â For the big finish, the teachers (Christy Baggett and Dolph Amick) explain figures of speech â and scatting â in the number âWords, Words, Words.â
Incidentally, fans of A Year with Frog and Toad will want to check out Aurora Theatre's production of The Dinosaur Musical, a follow-up by musical creators Robert and Willie Reale, playing March 19-April 6. Apparently the dinosaur costumes will be made of "found objects," in keeping with the show's themes of environmentalism and conservation.