Kristy’s “Junie B. Jones” Review

JBJ Archive 03

First off, I feel as though I should start by acknowledging that I am probably coming to the table with a bit of bias with regard to this play.  I am a big fan of the Junie B. collection of books (and own a good majority of them)!  For any who may not know, this series of books is about a spunky and outspoken young girl named Junie B. Jones who is not afraid to say what she thinks and how she feels.  The stories are told through Junie’s voice as she journeys through the typical childhood joys and struggles and experiences that most 5 and 6 year olds do.  The settings of these books bounce back and forth between school and home, detailing her interactions with her family, as well as her friends and of course, her rival, blabbermouth May.  As a former 1st Grade teacher, I used to read these books aloud to my students (and now my son), and they have never failed to entertain and delight their young audience.

The play Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells! (an adaptation of the book) follows Junie and her class as they prepare for their holiday performance and classroom celebration, which is to include a secret Santa gift exchange.  This show is a nice treat for the holiday season – with a heartwarming ending that delivers a great moral lesson as Junie struggles with the meaning of “good will” and trying to “be a giver and not a shellfish”.

JBJ Archive 13

To say that “I loved it” feels like an understatement!  This performance was excellent!!  I attended this play with my 7 year old son and my mom…and I’m honestly not sure who enjoyed the play most!  Children and adults alike will appreciate the laugh out loud comedy in this show, both in the narrative and the actions of the characters.  It was hilarious – and we were not the only ones who thought so, judging from the amount of laughter also coming from the other members of the audience!  The characters were really brought to life, and could not have been more like I imagined them from having read the books.  They were perfectly casted!  Although my son is familiar with the Junie B. books and characters from reading some of them, he and my mom (who previously knew nothing about Junie B.) went into this show without knowing this particular storyline.  My son (a current 1st grader like Junie) had a huge smile that remained constant on his face through the entire show, and was only broken by his frequent laughter.  He was extremely involved by the end, trying to predict what Junie would do about her secret Santa gift, and how the show would conclude.  The story is easy to follow, even for those who are unfamiliar with the book or the characters.  The set and costumes were simple, but perfect to enhance each characters persona and complement each scene nicely.

JBJ Archive 21

I do think Childsplay was accurate with their age recommendation of 5 and up.  The actors are very active and engaging, and the set changes keep things moving, but there is a lot of dialogue (told from the viewpoint of a 1st grader).  So attention span and ability to comprehend the storyline need to be factored in when considering what age children to bring to the show. But I think any elementary school aged child would have a great experience!

I love the extended activities that Childsplay has created – they really enhance the experience, and of course, appealed to my educator side!  There are several thought provoking activities with opportunities to teach, predict and discuss, including suggestions of things to think about, talk about, and watch for during your time at the theater and even afterwards.  Be sure to check out the tables in the lobby for making your very own Junie B. glasses, and using the Junie B. Jinglizer to create your own version of Jingle Bells!  We arrived about 15 minutes early, but could easily have used more time for the activities.  (My son used the intermission to run back out to the lobby to create another pair of Junie B glasses to give to me!)

Kristy

All in all, I’d say this was another homerun for Childsplay – they knocked it out of the park!!

Kristy
Mom Blogger

Nicole Reviews “The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane”

I laughed, I cried and was blown away by the creativity and talent that Childsplay was able to showcase in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.

Tulane archive 232

We had spent the last two weeks reading the book with my three younger children while my oldest had read it years before.  We had been discussing how they would portray each scene, how many actors there would be and especially how they would portray Edward himself.  We were split half and half on if he would be a real person or a doll with a voice from beyond.

We arrived and spent time enjoying the 360 learning about Hobos, costuming, how the play was written, and other interesting facts that related to the story.   Then saw the craft table with the shadow puppets.  Immediately I said “What does that have to do with the story?”  To which my 8 year old replied “remember the witch and the princess and the warthog story.”  They started to make them just to do something as we had time.  Nobody was super enthusiastic, but hey, we had time.

Then we entered the theater and started to look at the Playbill.   Needless to to say we were surprised to see that there would be only 4 actors and that the scenery was very simple.  The last thing that was said was, “I wonder who will sit in the 5th chair if there are only four actors” as the music started and the actors took the stage.

Tulane archive 12

From that point forward there were smiles, sad faces, laughs and worried looks all the way up to intermission.  One of the many highlights was how they used the shadow puppets to retell the story that Pelligrina tells Abilene.  All I can say is that it made my kids head straight to the lobby at intermission and begin cutting away.  It made my 11 year old say, “Now I get the story.”  I would have to say that would be true not only for that part of the play, but for the whole story.

Pellegrina and Abilene

When my oldest was 6, we read the book and went to a “book club”.  He was able to tell what happened in the story, but was not able to understand the depth of most parts.  My youngest is now the same age and I think had the same thing fro just reading the book.  But after seeing the emotion in the actors faces and hearing the words brought to life, I venture to say he understands it.

After the intermission the action continues and the intermission did not effect the emotion that you felt as Edward meets up with his beloved Abilene in the doll shop.  First you could hear a woman cry a bit, and as I looked saw many kids and adults with tears in their eyes, then as I looked on stage and Katie McFadden delivered the last line you could see that same emotion in her face.  It is that that makes this whole play one of the best I have seen by Childsplay.  The entire time I felt that the actors were in the moment and so was I.   The set and costumes are simple yet so perfectly done.

Tulane archive 14

As we discussed all the play and what we liked, I decided that for me, that the way it was done allows us to keep in tact the vivid pictures that Kate DiCamillo created in our minds while reading the book, yet strongly left the emotion of the book imprinted on you in a way will never forget.

Childsplay recommends this for 7 and up.  I would agree for the most part that in order to understand and appreciate all the parts that would be right on.  Having said that, my almost six year old enjoyed it and I fully expect to see him and his two sisters reenacting parts of the play tomorrow in our toy room as they generally do when they have seen a play that they enjoy!

Nicole
Mom Blogger

Childsplay Weaves a Wondrous Tale in “Charlotte’s Web”

Last Saturday, my family and I had the pleasure of attending Childsplay’s production of “Charlotte’s Web,” adapted from the E.B. White classic by Joseph Robinette, and directed by Anthony Runfola. The familiar tale of the unlikely friendship between a young pig and an old spider has long been one of my favorites, so my expectations going in to this performance were high. The cast and crew of Childsplay did not disappoint. The acting was superb and the set design, costumes, and effects were nothing short of perfection as they transported the audience back to a simpler time in 1950’s rural America.IMG_5795

The play begins with Fern, played by the delightful Kate Haas, singing to herself, “The itsy bitsy spider climbed up the water spout….” Immediately my three-year-old yelled, “Hey, Mom! I have that book!” So much for theater etiquette. But at the same time, I was pleased to see my younger daughter so quickly drawn in to the performance. Nicely done, Childsplay!

Although I had set out to read this beloved classic to my two daughters, Lucy (age 3) and Jula (age 6), over the summer, as you all know, life happens, and we didn’t get very far in our efforts. They knew the gist of the beginning of the story…girl meets pig, girl saves pig, pig meets spider…but that’s about as far as we got. They knew nothing of Charlotte’s attempts to save Wilbur and, of course, had no idea that Charlotte herself would one day perish. So pretty much, they knew nothing.

As a result, I wasn’t sure how my girls would react to the play. I knew they would adore Wilbur (which they did), and I felt sure they would revere Charlotte (which they did), but I couldn’t be certain that my frequently loud and energetic three-year-old would be able to follow the story enough to sit still during the production or that my overly sensitive and empathetic six-year-old would be able to keep it together when Charlotte died. I’m proud to report, they both surprised me.

To be sure, Lucy did yell out during the performance (as mentioned), and she did have a fantastic time playing the new game she invented called “Bounce in My Seat,” but she also watched the show with wide eyes and was able to tell me everything that she loved about the play later that evening: the lights for the baby spiders, the music, Wilbur and Homer playing chase, and “Charlotte the spider because she’s BEAUTIFUL!”

If you’re feeling a little unsure about whether to take your own preschooler to this performance, my advice is to know your child. Lucy is an active little girl, but she can also sit through a 90 minute movie without blinking an eye. I think live productions naturally encourage more movement and activity because the actors are right there running around on stage and our little ones are so tempted to join them, but Runfola wisely includes a fifteen minute intermission during which you can take your wiggle worms out to the lobby to burn off some energy if need be. The entire production, including intermission and the Q&A portion at the end of the show, is nearly two hours long, but not once did I see a child being removed from the theater, nor did I notice any child who likely should have been.

Childsplay recommends “Charlotte’s Web” for children ages 5 and older, undoubtedly because of the mature themes of death and mortality woven throughout the play. Runfola doesn’t sugarcoat this. Wilbur indeed faces the threat of slaughter, ax and all, and Charlotte does, in fact, die in the end. However, I think that for most of the toddler and preschool set, both of these particulars will go right over their heads. That seems to have been the case with Lucy. Aside from the ax, nothing about Wilbur’s impending doom is extremely overt, and Charlotte’s death is quiet and simple rather than gratuitous.

Older children, however, will likely pick up on these darker themes if they listen more carefully to the dialogue and narration. My six-year-old, Jula, was noticeably upset by Charlotte’s passing, and while she did not cry, she did ask A LOT of questions. After the performance, she said, “I can’t believe Charlotte died! But she didn’t die for real, right? I mean she’s still a real person, right?” This even after chatting with Debra K. Stevens, who plays Charlotte, at the end of the show! Obviously, we had much to talk about on the ride home. Depending on your older children’s prior experiences with death, I suggest you be prepared for similar conversations.

While she was deeply saddened by Charlotte’s death, Jula was mostly heartbroken at the thought of Charlotte dying alone. She wasn’t the only one. When narrator Katie McFadzen delivered the line, “No one was with her when she died,” I sniffled. A man seated three rows ahead of us surreptitiously wiped his eyes. I’m fairly certain I even heard McFadzen’s voice quiver. Such a fiercely loyal and altruistic friend did not deserve this fate.

Of course, “Charlotte’s Web” isn’t all about death and dying. The themes of friendship and kindness prevail throughout the story with even Templeton the rat learning to help others, so long as there’s something in it for him! The play may make you cry, but it will also make you laugh with comic relief provided by Jon Gentry as Templeton and a lot of good-natured chuckles at the expense of the endearingly sweet Wilbur, played by Kyle Sorrell. Gentry, my personal favorite and long-time Childsplay crush, plays the unconscionable, inconsiderate, selfish rat Templeton with such charisma and panache that I actually found myself rooting for him by the end of the play. But, of course, the real star of the show is Sorrell. He skillfully captures the childlike exuberance of the young pig Wilbur while also showing him to be earnest, innocent, and unassuming. The story is as much a coming-of-age tale for Wilbur as it is for Fern, and, by the end, Sorrell’s Wilbur has matured into an astute, resourceful, and brave leader among the barnyard animals.

Children (and adults) will also be impressed by the set design, the costumes, and the lighting and sound effects. Set Designer William H. Symington has created a simple yet imposing set consisting mainly of a single movable structure that converts from the Arables’ house to the Zuckermans’ farm to the County Fair. With every turn and transformation, I could hear Jula whisper “Whoa!” The simplicity of the barn contrasts nicely with Charlotte’s large and wondrous web, fashioned out of painted metal rods that shimmer and sparkle under the stage lights. Stevens’ Charlotte crawls gracefully across her jungle gym web, but it’s the manner in which she “weaves” her messages about Wilbur that most amazed my family. So much so, I insisted we ask her about it at the end of the show. I won’t spoil anything for you here, but know that Stevens practiced for more than eight hours over several weeks to master her “web-spinning” technique.

Adriana Diaz’s costume designs are whimsical and fun. Rather than dress the actors in typical animal fashion (i.e. realistic-looking animal costumes), Diaz instead chose to outfit them in clothing that captures the essence of their animal characters. Playful and innocent Wilbur is dressed in pink patchwork overalls with green rubber boots and a straw hat adorned with pink, pointy ears. Winsome and beautiful Charlotte wears a marbled gray and brown ball gown with layers of tulle for the skirt and four furry legs attached at her waist. Jula explained that Templeton wears a “dirty old coat” because “rats like things that are very yucky.” Diaz’s concept was not lost on her.

Tim Monson’s lighting design and Christopher Neumeyer’s sound effects bring the farm to life with roosters crowing at sunrise, dark and gloomy rainy days, and fireworks at the County Fair. Three of Charlotte’s children are represented by small individual flashes of light, marking their presence as magical and significant. Although this is a rather simple effect, it’s one that has stayed with Lucy even now, days after the show.

Runfola’s production is well thought out and staged with obvious consideration given to Childsplay’s intended audience. For example, he uses the actors to narrate the transitions between scenes. This is a clever way to move the story along when playing to an audience of children. Jula and Lucy were delighted by the manner in which he illustrates Wilbur’s maturation from piglet to pig; “The pig puppet grew and grew, and then he was a human!” Runfola’s portrayal of the Goose’s newborn goslings was an audience favorite, eliciting smiles and laughter from children and adults alike, but, once again, I won’t spoil the surprise for you here.

Childsplay’s production of “Charlotte’s Web” is lively, humorous, and heartfelt and will appeal to audiences of all ages. Children who are new to the story will fall in love with Charlotte and Wilbur, and adults who enjoyed the classic novel as children will delight in seeing these beloved characters come to life on stage. I loved it, my husband loved it, and our girls “thought it was great!”

IMG_5767

After the show, be sure to spend some time in the lobby where theater-goers are invited to learn all about arachnids through a display board of spider trivia, read a letter from E.B. White sharing his thoughts on writing and his inspiration for the story of “Charlotte’s Web,” and test their knowledge of new vocabulary words from the play through an interactive exhibit (Did you know “arable” means suitable for farming?). A separate table offers directions for weaving a web made from pipe cleaners and yarn and encourages children to answer the question, “If Charlotte wrote a word about you in her web, what would it be?” Their answers are displayed on a giant web of yarn dubbed the “Childsplay Worldwide Web of Words.” Also check out the educational resources available on Childsplay’s web site. Although I think these are mostly intended for teachers and students on field trips, they include a lot of great activities that my girls have enjoyed.

IMG_5788 IMG_5783 IMG_5776

“Charlotte’s Web” runs through Oct. 12 at the Tempe Center for the Arts with performances on Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and on Sundays at 1 p.m. Backstage tours are available on Sept. 27 and Oct. 4 with an ASL performance on Sept. 28.

Cathy
Mom Blogger

“Schoolhouse Rock Live!” review by Jessica

Another toe tapping, bouncing in your seat performance from the folks at Childsplay.  Schoolhouse Rock Live! was a performance that took me right back to the good old days of watching these musical cartoons when I was a kid. My boys ages 8 and 6 really didn’t know what to expect when heading to the show and the car was flooded with questions about what they were going to see. My daughter was more than willing to give them her version of I’m just a Bill at the top of her lungs from the front seat of the car; silly teenager enter stage right. With this show being right at an hour of stage time it was perfect for introducing my younger children to musical performances. It was a nice blend of story line and music and education that had them all (me included) shuffling our feet to the upbeat tunes.

IMG_4400[1]

The set was layered with functionality: stacked boxes became shelves or television sets, or even hiding spots for hide and seek. My favorite by far was the inventive use of white boards and lighting to give versatility to changing words and reinforcing key points of the song. I was very impressed with the precision this took for the performers knowing exactly where their boards and bodies needed to be to execute this element of the show. One step to the side or a shift in position would robbed the audience of an important adjective or conjunction.

IMG_4399[1]

Schoolhouse Rock was jammed full of songs, old favorites like, Just a Bill, Five, and The Preamble, as well as our new favorites like Interplanet Janet and Unpack Your Adjectives.  All the actors and actresses did a great job of belting it out, the songs transitioned well and added some really funny moments that had us giggling long after the show was over. One of our favorites was when Molly Robinson who plays Shulie, held her hands up sporting three fingers on each side and making an “o” with her mouth transforming herself into a walking “WOW.” Since the show my daughter has tried it out on many occasions.  School House Rock Live is a MUST see, toe tapping, rockin‘, fun family experience.

Jessica
Mom Blogger

Previous Older Entries

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.