Twelve-year-old Savannah Springer doesn’t get in trouble very often. The Mesa seventh grader is pretty good at following the rules and helping around the house.
But as one of two performers playing the title role of Junie B. in the Arizona premier of “Junie B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School,” Savannah is trying on a different personality for size.
The new musical, produced by Limelight Performing Arts in Gilbert, is based on the bestselling books by Barbara Park and shares the saga of the wisecracking Junie B. – a self-appointed expert on all things first grade – who is determined to write the ultimate guide to school.
The production features a cast of 16 young performers from across the East Valley.
“Junie B. is constantly making jokes and getting in trouble,” said Savannah. “It is so much fun to play a trouble-maker in this show and do things I would never try to get away with in real life.”
“Junie B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School” is the hilarious and heartwarming follow-up to “Junie B. Jones, The Musical.”
The show uses high-energy music and comedic dialogue to take audiences through a series of stresses and mishaps as precocious Junie confronts the challenges of first grade – and gets in a lot of trouble along the way.
“One of my favorite lessons of the show is that Junie B. learns how to control her anger when things aren’t going her way,” said director Rio Chavez of Mesa. “She faces her anger head on by learning to control El Toro Fabuloso, the bull who lives in her stomach, and learns to turn her frustrations into successful solutions.”
Young audiences will see a version of themselves in the over-the-top, slapstick characters of Junie B. and her friends.
And people of all ages will appreciate the show’s lessons: that everyone makes mistakes, why it’s important to own up and how nobody is ever done learning.
Thirteen-year-old Owen Aspinall of Mesa, who plays the role of Sheldon Potts, added, “I like doing theater because I enjoy being part of interesting and funny stories.”
“Our goal with this production is to teach the children of our community that it’s okay to make mistakes,” added Chavez. “Even ‘when things go wrong,’ with a little effort, ‘you can make things right.’”
“It’s a great opportunity for kids to see that we are always learning and growing – even when it’s an uncomfortable and challenging process,” said Emma England, the show’s choreographer and Limelight’s artistic director.
For England, it’s also a chance to show off the sizable talent in “Junie B.’s” small cast.
“It’s always such a surprise for audiences when young performers put on a very strong show,” she said. “The kids in this cast really hold their own and bring so much talent to the stage. I think people will be blown away by what the ‘Junie B.’ cast has created.”
Added Chavez, “We have a wonderful group of actors who are as dedicated as they are talented. These kids bring vibrance and life to their characters while showing a level of professionalism that is well beyond their years.”
“In a lot of the other shows I do, I am one of the younger kids in the cast,” said 14-year-old McKenna Henry of Mesa, who plays Mother. “In Junie B., I am one of the oldest, and it’s one of the things that makes this show special. I am having so much fun with the younger kids in the cast.”
“Limelight has really changed my life,” said 11-year-old Jaelyn Harden of Mesa, who plays the role of Herb. “With the new friends and the experience, it has been truly magical being in ‘Junie!’”
“We wanted to stay true to the time period of the books,” said England. “That means learning the Roger Rabbit and Hammer Time. The kids are absolutely crushing it! Everything in this show features styling from the 90s, including lots of bright colors in the set and costumes.”
For 10-year-old Edward Oster of Mesa, there are other bonus lessons.
“Acting has helped me get better with diction,” he said. “I love acting because you can pretend you are another character. I also love singing and wearing costumes.”
And there are bonuses for England, too, as she directs Savannah and Anna Scales of Scottsdale, who also plays Junie B..
“I love the way Savannah and Anna work together,” she said. “I’ve never seen two kids who are so supportive of one another.”
Six weeks since the cast list was posted, Limelight is ready to open the show. “Junie B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School” runs from Sept. 24 to Oct. 2 at the Studio 3 Artspace Theatre, 511 W. Guadalupe Road in Gilbert. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at limelight.ticketleap.com. Limelight is also producing a “Page to Stage” storytime version for young children ages 2-7 and their parents.