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Parents and children may already be familiar with the spunky and loveable children’s book character Junie B. Jones, from the series by Barbara Park. If you aren’t familiar though, there’s no better introduction than Raleigh Little Theatre’s current production of Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook. This adaptation by Allison Gregory unfolds as nearly-six-years-old Junie B. tries to solve the mystery of her missing fuzzy mittens and learns some lessons about “finders keepers” herself.
On Friday’s opening night, exceptional design elements completely captured the spirit of child-like imagination and elevated the hard work of the multi-generational cast. Thomas Mauney's scenic design is wonderfully bright and versatile. As colorful flats are raised in and out of the space, the stage transforms from Junie B.’s kindergarten classroom, to a playground, to the principal’s office, and to Junie B.’s home. Thomas Matrejek’s lighting design effectively mutes these colors when necessary and zeroes in with detailed lighting effects to create a variety of ambiences. Juan Isler’s sound design completes the package with a nod to the 90s here and there, hinting at the decade in which the Junie B. Jones series was born. Matrejek and Isler’s designs mesh perfectly at contrasting Junie B.’s imagined dialogues from her real-world interactions. Every scene is amplified by Jenny Mitchell’s clever and efficient costume design. Each character, both imaginary and real, has an individualized design that works cohesively within the overall company.
Likewise, the character work of the talented cast revealed the fun and loveable personalities of each character while presenting a sense of ensemble and collaboration. Claire Fellows was perfectly fearless as Junie B. Jones and struck a nice balance with Connor Birkhead’s unassuming and relatable Handsome Warren. Drew Sarratt and David Mills made a dynamic duo as Ricardo and Jim, respectively. Mills played a feisty, likeable Jim that paired well with Sarratt’s shyer but endearing Ricardo. Junie B.’s best pals, Lucille and Grace, were also well-matched by Miana White and Coco Heinisch, respectively. White captured prissy Lucille but kept the character likeable while Heinisch was bold and sincere as Grace.
Adult (and young adult) actors played the show's adult characters, with each delivering realistic and supportive portrayals. Emily Langan was the kindergarten teacher everyone wished they had. Jaclyn Brown was impressive in dual roles as both Grouchy Typing Lady and Junie B. Jones’ mother, finding relatable moments to make each character shine. Dan Bain also showed versatility with his two characters, Principal and Grampa, but kept a through-line of paternal patience for both.
With a confident cast and spectacular designs, Raleigh Little Theatre’s Junie B. Jones Is Not a Crook hit a home run. Under Kathleen Rudolph’s direction, every joke landed and every lesson taught held something of value for audiences of all ages. The ensemble conveyed a real sense of collaboration and inclusion on stage that extended beyond the curtain. Audience members are invited by Junie B. to respond throughout the performance, and the quick 70-minute runtime is a great start for young audiences new to live theatre. If you are looking for a lighthearted theatrical experience that is fun for the whole family, look no further than RLT’s Junie B Jones Is Not a Crook.
Junie B Jones Is Not a Crook continues through Sunday, March 27. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.