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