THE BASICS: JUNIE B. JONES IN JINGLE BELLS, BATMAN SMELLS, a play by Allison Gregory based on Barbara Park’s series, presented by Theatre of Youth as part of their 45th Anniversary season, directed by Meg Quinn, stars Renee Landrigan, Arin Lee Dandes, Dan Torres, Danica Riddick, Kevin Craig, Dan Urtz, and Larry Smith. There are three more shows, Saturday, December 17 at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. and then Sunday, December 18 at 2:00 p.m. at the Allendale Theatre, 203 Allen Street, Buffalo, NY 14201 Run time 1-1/2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. (884-4400). www.theatreofyouth.org
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Based on the N.Y. Times best-selling books by Barbara Park about six-year-old first-grader Junie B. Jones and her on-going rivalry with May Murkee, the play climaxes with the students in Mr. Scary’s classroom exchanging “Secret Santa” gifts after Junie B. has drawn (you guessed it) May’s name.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: A first rate production starring two of the most versatile actors in Buffalo, Renee Landrigan and Arin Lee Dandes, this was everything I hoped for. To quote the late, great Selma Diamond in a “Night Court” episode in which she had just returned from a play: “I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me.”
And I did laugh because the play isn’t just for kids. There are good lines for adults to enjoy, for example when Junie B. is looking forward to a school performance (I’m quoting from memory here) “There will be people there and also our parents.” And I did cry, because the climax was so beautifully orchestrated – the music, the lighting, the acting – it all came together and I didn’t see it coming. Pow.
And I did laugh because the play isn’t just for kids.
And it did become a part of me because I’ve been waiting for a “Five Buffalo” theater experience for a while. As a reviewer I did wrack my brain for at least one negative to point out. Okay, here’s something: with a full house (and it was sold out on a Sunday afternoon) some of the dialog (and the actors wear head mics) was not as easy to hear as my old ears would have liked. But that’s it.
Back to Landrigan and Dandes – we got physically intense performances as they found their inner six-year olds which were believable and entertaining. Often when adults play kids, it’s just missing something; not with these two. But everyone delivered, in particular, Larry Smith as “Mr. Scary.” The set by Kenneth Shaw was kid friendly and slightly whimsical but also realistic, not an easy combination, and the lighting was very clever. Special kudos go to Chester Popiolkowski for the musical arrangements as well as the original compositions.
What’s next for Theatre of Youth? TOY opens 2017 (January 28 – February 12) with the action-packed saga of Widge in THE SHAKESPEARE STEALER full of intrigue and sword fighting.
CHARLOTTE’S WEB will be up March 18 – April 9, 2017 and then it’s ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE’S “WE ARE IN A PLAY!” May 6 – June 3.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!