When it comes to musicals, parents often stop and ask what makes a good introductory choice for children. There are a lot of musicals out there, but where do you find age-appropriate shows for children with added appeal for parents?
With summer around the corner, the International Children’s Festival of the Arts is the city hot spot. One festival main-stage show that never fails to attract sold-out houses is the St. Albert Children’s Theatre spring production. This year the youth troupe presents Juni B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School.
Adapted from Barbara Park’s best-selling Juni B. Jones series, Juni is a spunky kid who has survived Grade 1 and all its pitfalls. Now a mature Grade 2 student, she ropes her friends into helping write a survival guide for the next batch of Grade 1 students. The one-hour sequel delivers crackling jokes, memorable songs, and the 22 fresh-faced actors ranging from nine years to 19 who create fun for every age.
This musical is a follow-up to the troupe’s 2018 festival production titled simply Juni B. Jones the Musical. The show was a sellout and introduced Juni as a sweet, boisterous little Grade 1 student who discovers school has its rough moments.
“She comes up with this brilliant idea of developing a survival guide and gets her friends involved. But she’s the only one who can’t figure out what to say,” said artistic director Janice Flower.
Although Juni sparks the idea of a guide, she develops writer’s block while her friends toss out ideas based on their interests. At one point, it dawns on Juni she still has a lot to learn and it’s OK to admit your mistakes.
Choreographer Rachel Ironmonger has nothing but praise for the cast.
“It’s a very demanding ensemble piece. It’s non-stop. All the kids are on the go from the moment it starts until it stops,” said Ironmonger of the choreography.
Kate Guile, 17, tackles the emotionally and physically demanding role of Juni.
“Her Juni is so innocent and a bundle of pure joy. She’s got that rascally edge, but it’s soft. She shows the beauty of children and their excitement. She wants to help, but not always in the best way. Kate is a wonderful person, and she has a wonderful stage presence,” said Ironmonger.
Juni’s four best friends are: Lucille (Madelyn Harpikainen), an emerging fashionista; May (Em Creswell), the teacher’s pet who goes above and beyond; Herb (Elliot Frankiw), a sweet, happy-go-lucky guy; and Sheldon (Connor Woodley), a loveable odd duck who has allergy attacks and likes marching.
The triple-threat cast — performers who act, sing and dance — have learned composers Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrichan's upbeat 14-song score. Although the lyrics were easy to learn, the score is a challenge.
Music director Janet Nichol added the young actors have worked hard to master the complex melodies and harmonies.
“In particular, the harmonies are very close. The notes are closer and more challenging. They’re very tight. They require vocal dexterity and flexibility. More importantly, they require a good ear to hear what you are singing in group numbers. But these are very tenacious kids,” said Nichol.
Several song highlights are the Spanish sounding El Toro Fabuloso, a dream sequence with a bull; the pop-rock Gotta Get There as Juni races to the bus; and the marching Backpack Parade.
Nichol closed by saying, “What I’m most thrilled about is the return to performance and half the cast is brand new. It’s a great opportunity for children who think they want to do theatre and would like to make it happen. There’s singing, dancing, acting. Come on out and see for yourself. We would love to see you at our next audition.”
Juni B's Essential Survival Guide to School runs June 2 to 5 at the new City Arts Space, 125 Carleton Drive, Unit 105. Tickets are $13 per person. You can order online at tickets.stalbert.ca or from the Arden box office at 780-459-1542.