Stage & Dance

Lead in 'Junie B. Jones' has small shoes to fill

Carly Crawford as Junie B. Jones posed for  portrait  during a rehearsal of Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells at the Lexington Children's Theatre in Lexington, Ky., on Monday Nov. 22, 2010.  The play opens on November 27th at the Lexington Opera House. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff
Carly Crawford as Junie B. Jones posed for portrait during a rehearsal of Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells at the Lexington Children's Theatre in Lexington, Ky., on Monday Nov. 22, 2010. The play opens on November 27th at the Lexington Opera House. Photo by Pablo Alcala | Staff Pablo Alcala | Staff

It doesn't take much for Carly Crawford to get in touch with her inner Junie B. Jones. It just takes being cast as Junie B. Jones.

"When I found out I was going to be Junie B., I called my mom and said, 'I get to be Junie B.!' and I freaked out," Crawford says, her hair freshly cut so she looks as if she just walked off a cover of one of Barbara Park's popular books about the no-nonsense young girl.

Crawford is well aware that she will be the envy of many elementary school-age girls who will pack the Lexington Opera House when the Lexington Children's Theatre production of Junie B. Jones: Jingle Bells, Batman Smells plays there for the next two weekends.

"It is really exciting and a little nerve-wracking because I want to do justice to Junie B.," Crawford says.

The Children's Theatre directors have wanted to get Junie B. on their stage for quite a while. It was on the LCT schedule once, but in the mercurial world of rights for children's literature, the theater lost the show before it could get the production going.

"For a lot of what we do as Children's Theatre, we tie in to the literature young people are reading and the schools are using to bring audiences into our doors," says the show's director, Jeremy Kisling, LCT's associate artistic director in charge of education.

And kids are reading Junie B. Jones.

Junie Beatrice Jones was a kindergartner for 17 books, the first of which, Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus, was published in 1992. Then June B. graduated to first grade for 10 more books (so far).

Already, Children's Theatre managing director Lesley Farmer says, school performances of the show are sold out, and the public performances this weekend and next weekend are selling briskly. When the production is over, including shows in Lexington and tours to Madisonville, Hazard, Morehead and Frankfort, 50,000 children will have seen this production.

"That's the fun of Junie B., to have these little girls' imaginations, and they've never seen what Junie B. looks like, and to be able to say, 'This is Lexington Children's Theatre's vision of Junie B.,' is going to be really fun," Farmer says.

"She is very blunt," Crawford says of the character. "She's quick to say what's on her mind, even if it's not completely logical from an adult perspective. It's definitely the logic of a first-grader and the issues of a first-grader, like I don't really like this person, but I have to be nice to them because I know I have to be nice to them, and how do I deal with that?

"She just has this very blunt, honest tone that helps a lot of people relate to her."

Dealing with people she would rather not deal with is a big issue in Jingle Bells, as Junie ends up having to be a secret Santa to her nemesis, May.

The play is a composite of three Junie B. books: Shipwrecked, about her school's Columbus Day pageant; Jingle Bells, Batman Smells; and Dumb Bunny.

Crawford, 23, is intimately familiar with Junie B.

"My mom used to be a kindergarten teacher, so she would read them to her class and then bring them home, and we would read them together," Crawford says. "I was in high school, and we would be sitting there reading Junie B. books to each other and laughing our heads off. So I have actually read all of them and actually own all of them."

You might think that Crawford, as an actress, would have developed a Junie B. voice while reading the books back and forth.

But there wasn't much of a need: "My Junie B. voice isn't that much different from my real voice."

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