The precocious and lovable title character from Barbara Park’s best-selling children’s book series will soon leap from page to stage here when the musical “Junie B. Jones” premieres February 10.
The musical, presented by local theatre company Bloomsbury House, follows the comic misadventures of outspoken first grader Junie B. Jones as she navigates schoolyard politics, friendships, homework disasters, and the perils of grade school social life.
“We aspire to high energy, fast-paced productions that center the jokes and the story,” said Ouellette on his directorial approach. “The scripts we choose are very funny, written by brilliant artists, based on creations of other brilliant artists, and if we commit to them and treat them with the respect they deserve, they serve us in return. We have several educators on our team, and collectively we put a lot of thought into making the story accessible to every kid in the room. We expect a high level of focus and clarity from our performers, and they deliver.”
In a way, Junie B. Jones is a show produced on request.
“After ‘Curious George: The Golden Meatball,’ the Chrysler Theatre requested some other options from us,” said director Martin Ouellette on his inspiration for the show. “People on our team were big childhood fans of Junie so I read the script and the four Barbara Park books the show is based on, and I really connected with the characters and the style of comedy. It also was a great opportunity for our Curious George choreographer Julia Pastorius to really sink her teeth into designing advanced choreography that is tightly integrated into a show as a whole, and for me as a comedy director to learn how to adjust to that.”
The musical numbers feature advanced choreography prepared for the talented cast. Pastorius’ choreography is expected to add energy and visual interest while supporting the comedy and storytelling of the show. She uses wooden school benches built by Ouellette’s father in inventive ways during the dance sequences. The cast has been rehearsing the demanding dance routines since December, and Ouellette has had to adjust his comedic directing approach to incorporate with the choreography.
The Chrysler Theatre’s expansive cyclorama allows Ouellette and his team to get creative with multimedia effects in order to establish the bright and cartoonish world of Junie B. Jones.
“This allows us to create a much greater variety of settings and also use a bit of animation and other effects, while echoing the 2D line art style of the books in a way that the audience hopefully will find familiar,” explained Ouellette. “We have many detailed costumes and hand props and my dad’s gorgeous handmade set of four Shaker-style wooden school benches which we reconfigure into different settings.”
Ouellette said the advantage of using projections is that it allows the team to create a greater variety of settings while staying true to the visual style of the Junie B. Jones books. “This allows us to create a much greater variety of settings and also use a bit of animation and other effects, while echoing the 2D line art style of the books in a way that the audience hopefully will find familiar,” he remarked.
Charlotte Salisbury will take on the title role. “Junie is one of those characters who narrates her own show and never leaves the stage, and we don’t even have an intermission,” said Ouellette on casting the demanding part. “That sort of confidence, stamina, and focus is a special skill.”
Ouellette believes the appeal of “Junie B. Jones” rests in its honest and comedic portrayal of childhood anxieties. “Personally, I connected with the Junie books because they are unapologetic comedies about an anxious and energetic and often lonely kid trying to get through the perils of grade school social life with a 50/50 rate of success,” he remarked. “The books are remarkably free of fairy tale morals or obvious lessons.”
According to the director, the musical numbers showcase the talents of both the adult and young performers. “The music contains cheeky nods to everything from Hairspray to JC Superstar to Avenue Q to Golden Age shows, and after every rehearsal I have a different song stuck in my head,” said Ouellette. “Today it’s You Can Be My Friend, a desperately cute duet between Junie (Charlotte Salisbury) and her new bus-mate Herb (Gianluca Ieraci). It’s very catchy and clever and sweet but also has some challenging and creative harmonies sung beautifully by our leads.”
Ouellette believes accessible ticket prices combined with popular titles helps create sustainability in community theatre. “Presenting well-known brands like ‘Curious George’ and ‘Junie B. Jones’ allows us to sell enough tickets to pay our actors a guaranteed fee, hopefully someday a scale wage,” he explained. “For myself, at the end of the day, I want to make a modest living and provide what was rarely available to me as a young Windsor actor – regular, reliable, paid opportunities – so artists can focus on their art and do good work where they grew up while also building the next generation of audiences.”
The musical, with Bill Dileva, Craig Gloster, Alex Hristoff, Gianluca Ieraci, Julia Pastorius, Alysia Therrien, Krystal Laframboise and Charlotte Salisbury as Junie B. Jones, runs for one show only on February 10 at 2pm. Tickets are available via the Chrysler Theatre Box Office.