A REVIEW: 'Junie B.' full of laughs, quirky characters

Trish Morgan
Special to the News Tribune
Members of the cast of "Junie B." pose for a photo: Carrie Wolford, Danise Whitlock, Justice Courrier, Lily Riley, Matt Armentrout, Mike Bambara, Karl Glocker. Front row, kneeling (left to right): Jessica Miller, Tawney Jenkins and Whitney O'Haver.

Picture yourself once again in a theatre watching a live performance by adults carrying roles of first-grade students. The lights go dim, and you find yourself imagining what your first grade experience was like compared to these goofballs!

Based on the bestselling books, the saga of the wisecracking first-grader continues in "Junie B.'s Essential Survival Guide to School", a goofy and heartwarming follow-up to "Junie B. Jones, The Musical."

A self-appointed expert on all things first grade, Junie B. is determined to write the ultimate guide: Junie B.'s Essential Survival Guide to School. As she deals with writer's block and constantly getting into trouble, Junie B. quickly realizes that she still has a lot to learn.

Before you know it, you are introduced to one of the world's favorite first-graders - Miss Junie B. Jones. Whatever you do, don't ever say her name without the B, or you may consider yourself on her list like May was!

New to the Embassy stage, high school freshman Lily Riley takes over the role previously owned by local actor Caitlin Weems, and she brings her own flavor to the Junie B. character. Lily plays the little bit selfish, little bit of a troublemaker and little bit of a rebel perfectly, and at the end, she learned some hard lessons of friendship and why we must follow rules. A little bit nervous at the start, in no time she warmed to the stage and sang and performed just wondrously! It must be so much fun to play this character! Well done, Lily.

Her fellow classmates were so excited Junie B. wanted to write a book, and every single one of them had their reasons why. They EACH wanted the book to be about THEM, and Junie B. wanted it to be about HER. Hilarity and great tunes ensued.

May, played with enthusiasm and high energy by Whitney O'Haver, has often been Junie B.'s nemesis throughout Barbara Parks' books. Whitney was so much fun to watch on stage in this musical, especially when dressing up like a box of crayons in the school supplies number. Can't say I've ever done THAT!

Mr. Scary, played by a versatile character actor named Matt Armentrout, really isn't scary, but at times to the students - he can be. He's strict and imposing, and expects the students to follow rules for their own benefit.

Jessica Miller (Lucille) plays her role of the rich Nana's girl just perfectly. She's well dressed, likes to brag about what things cost, and drops her "richy" Nana's name several times to make sure everyone remembers she is the prettiest girl in the class. Do you remember anyone in your class like that? I'll bet they didn't have a song about it, though. This show does!

Herb is another of the children in the class (played by stage veteran Karl Glocker). Karl is always entertaining to watch, and this comedy gives him a chance to show he's more than a serious actor. He can have fun like the best of them.

Next, there's the class nerd Sheldon Potts (Justice Courrier). His costume was soooo funny - his coke-bottle glasses taped in the middle, his stereotypical sneezing, nose-blowing, geek nature was showing - and he had me laughing so hard while trying not to make noise during the dress rehearsal I attended.

In fact, there were many occasions to laugh throughout, so this is a great family-friendly show. Take Mrs. Guzman, the cookie baker in the cafeteria. Carrie Wolford's get-up was fabulous, and she has great facial expressions and a good sense of comedic timing! Then there's the "over-acting" game-show host personality of the school principal (Tim Bambara, who does double duty as the director). I was waiting on "come on down!" like on The Price Is Right. I just loved what he did with this role!

Tawney Jenkins played El Toro Fabuloso (a bull in the tummy of Junie B.) The cast performed an entire song about this bull, and Tawney brought her stage experience with her to delight the theatre-goers. Tawney and actor extraordinaire Danise Whitlock (Mother/Mrs. Weller), have mastered many stages over the years. I've seen them play "goodie two shoes,” sexy women, cats, serious characters, divas and more. Each one inspires the audience to laugh, to cry or to feel. I'll take that any day.

Michael Bambara (Grandpa/Gus Valloney), just fresh off the Embassy stage of "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest,” always seems to handle each role with serious concentration. In this musical, he's a kind, caring grandfather to Junie B. and also plays the school custodian who offers fatherly advice. A very likable fella, it's quite nice to see him continue to perform on stage - putting that Cornell University education to good use after his retirement from teaching special education. Keep at it, Mike!

The production is directed by Timothy Bambara, with musical direction by Adam Pomeroy. Other creative/production team members are Danise Whitlock, costumes; Dan Cope and Jerard Puckett, set team; The Company, set painting; Jerard Puckett,  producer.

Because of a generous grant from the Community Trust Foundation and the Iris and Peter Halmos Community Fund, ticket prices have been reduced substantially for this production.

This production runs from June 18-27, with shows on Fridays and Saturdays, 7 p.m., and on Sundays, 2 p.m. for two consecutive weekends.

Visit  https://www.facebook.com/embassytheatrecumberland on Facebook, or visit their website at www.embassytheatrecorp.org for more information.  Although reservations are not required, they can be made to guarantee seating by calling 240-362-7183.