Monday, October 26, 2015

Junie B. Jones, the Musical—Oregon Children’s Theatre—downtown Portland

Never Give Up

This musical from OCT is based on books by Barbara Park, adapted for the stage by Marcy Heisler and music by Zina Goldrich, directed by Isaac Lamb, choreographed by Amy Beth Frankel and music direction by Mont Chris Hubbard.  It is playing at the Newmark Theatre, 1111 SW Broadway, through November 22nd.  For more information, please go to their site at www.octc.org  or call 503-228-9571.

The above phrase seems to be Junie’s motto and it’s a good one, whether you’re in first grade, as she is, or a golden-ager.  And, as she professes, if Life throws lemons at you, just make lemonade out of them.  It, indeed, is a scary world out there and best learn early how to deal with ridicule, bullying, and peer pressure foisted on us by the social media.  But Junie teaches us to be tenacious and defiant in face of adversity and, in her case, it seems to work.

This, then, is the tale of Junie B. Jones (Kai Tomizawa)--and a pox on you if you forget the “B” in her name--told mostly through music and dance.  She has a mother (Liz Ghiz) and father (Joe Theissen) who, although supportive of her, don’t seem to understand her.  Her best friend from kindergarten, the uppity, Lucille (Grace Proschold), has now found other best friends and so she, too, is forced to do the same.  So she pals up with the handsome, Herb (Clayton Lukens), who she has a crush on and the nerdy, clumsy but faithful Sheldon (Skylar Derthick).

She is going to record her first year adventures in her journal, her Top Personal Beeswax book.  Among her first are, getting a lunch box, wearing glasses, learning to juggle, trying to help in the cafeteria, and being involved in the Kickball Tournament.  In her own way, if she doesn’t exactly inspire her classmates (Lauren Burton, Ismael Samuel Torres, Kaylee Bair and David VanDyke), at least she carves out other aspects to her identity and stands up for what she believes in, good lessons for anyone.

The songs are very engaging and upbeat.  Lamb has chosen his cast well and keeps the action flowing at a brisk pace.  I especially liked Theissen, a frequent star of local musicals, in the many guises he portrayed, especially Mrs. Gutzman.  He is a genuine asset to any production he’s involved in.  Also Derthick as the awkward, Sheldon, is very good.  There is usually one in every class (as I was in school) and your heart goes out to him.

My highest praise, though, goes to Tomizawa as Junie, as she is extraordinary!  She is on almost the whole show and commands the stage with her kinetic energy, infectious charm and that amazing voice that belts the songs out of the park every time!  Mark my words, this young lady has STAR written on her horizon and she will go far in this career if she chooses it.  BRAVO!  (Watch for her as the title character in Alice In Wonderland at NW Children’s Theatre next year).

I recommend this show, especially for the young.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.