Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Allison Gregory has successfully woven together the books "Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren" and "Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook" into a 70-minute play that both entertains and enlightens. While the focus of the piece is mainly on Junie B.'s search for her missing mittens, Gregory does a good job of providing plenty of humor in the piece, both for children and adults, as well as ensuring that Junie learns from her experiences. The included issues of right and wrong in dealing with what to do when you find something that doesn't belong to you as well as how to interact with kids who are new to your school to make sure they feel included are simple yet incredibly effective lessons for younger children to learn.
Director Debra K. Stevens and her superb cast do exceptional work in making us believe that these adult actors are all kindergartners. Kate Haas is simply sensational as Junie B. She is virtually on stage for the entire show and her energy level never falters. She perfectly gets across the rambunctious nature of this young girl in a realistic way. Anyone who has ever been around an inquisitive kindergartner will immediately identify with, and find a lot of humor in, Haas' superb portrayal. Likewise, with slightly higher pitched voices and an upbeat demeanor, Racquel McKenzie, Jamie Sandomire, Tommy Strawser, and Rudy Ramirez are equally good playing the other children in Junie B.'s school. Most also play adult characters in the play with ease and some very speedy costume changes. Vinny Chavez is Warren, the handsome new boy Junie falls for, and he gets some very good moments where he poignantly shows the loneliness that a new kid can feel when his family moves into a new school district. Stevens plays Junie B.'s teacher and mother in a touching but firm and effective way.
Creative elements are lovely, with Aaron Jackson's set design fun and functional, including several surprises that help speedily move the show from one location to another. The kid-appropriate costumes from Adriana Diaz are full of color and creativity, and Jennifer Setlow's lighting and Chris Neumeyer's sound design are polished and lively.
Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook shows how simple little things like losing one's mittens can become what seem like gigantic issues for a child. But it also proves that being yourself and doing the right thing can make something that seems to be giant actually be something very small. And you might make a new friend in the process as well. With an excellent performance from Kate Hass and a well-written and well-paced adaptation from Allison Gregory, Childsplay's production starts off their 40th season in a very winning way.
Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook at Childsplay through October 16th, 2016, at the Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe, with performances on Saturdays at 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m. Tickets are on sale at www.childsplayaz.org or at the Tempe Center for the Arts Box Office (480) 350-2822 (ext. 0).
by Allison Gregory