Regional Reviews: Seattle
Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business Charms at Seattle Children's Theatre
The fairly slight story revolves around Junie B's coping with the fact that a baby brother is due at her house, as well as her usual adventures in the wild and wacky world of kindergarten. When the baby is born, Junie's Grandma declares him "the cutest little monkey", and sight unseen, Junie B. decides that this news is the perfect thing to share at her classes next show and tell. Though the truth comes out, Junie's disappointment is relatively short-lived, thanks to her resilience, and she shows signs of becoming a loving and supportive older sister.
A simple tale, filled with simple lessons? Perhaps. But engaging and involving thanks to Bennett's adroit stage direction, Kathryn Van Meter's uncomplicated yet creative and joyous choreography, and Mark Rabe's sharp and snappy musical direction (with the best job of utilizing canned musical tracks I have ever heard at SCT). Best of all, though, is a stellar cast, led by the effortlessly childlike Liz McCarthy as the hyper heroine, saucy and lovable Lisa Estridge as best friend/school bus partner That Grace, sublime Leslie Law as Junie's other best buddy Grace (a princess-in-training) and as Junie's Mom, and Peter A. Jacobs as obnoxious classmate Meanie Jim and Junie's adoring grandfather. In such an ensemble effort it is still possible to single out Laura Kenny (in a welcome return to a musical comedy stint) as Junie's weary but warm school teacher Mrs. and as Junie's Grandma, and doing triple duty, stellar Seattle character actor Stephen Hando, shining brightly as nerdy schoolmate Crybaby William, the unctuous Principal, and Junie's kindly Father.
Set designer Edie Whitsett has a field day with the brightly colored and imaginative scenery, with a larger than life toilet bowel a particularly winning achievement, Michael Wellborn provides a sunnily radiant lighting design, and Karen Ledger's costumes are a deliciously whimsical facsimile of the illustrations found in the Junie B. books.
Based on the rapt attention paid by the opening night, largely child-filled crowd, Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business works very well for its intended audience, but it also keeps their parents (and other potentially antsy adults, such as myself) well entertained indeed.
Junie B. Jones and a Little Monkey Business runs through June 18 at Seattle Children's Theatre, 201 Thomas Street, in Seattle Center. For more information go on-line at www.sct.org.
- David-Edward Hughes