Twelve-year-old Savannah Springer doesn’t get in trouble very often. The Mesa seventh grader is pretty good at following the rules, from helping around the house to completing her homework on time.
But now, she is trying on a different personality for size as one of two performers playing the title role of the Arizona premier of “Junie B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School.”
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.
Springer shares the role with 10-year-old Anna Scales of Scottsdale, who is also experimenting with the character.
“Junie B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School” is the hilarious and heartwarming follow-up to “Junie B. Jones, The Musical” and 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. “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.
Theatre is a fun learning experience,” added Ava Ciappetta, 13, of Gilbert, who plays the role of legendary lunch lady, Gladys Gutzman. “When a person is studying their character, they can step out of their comfort zone and try a new type of role. Gladys Gutzman certainly isn’t your average lunch lady!”
Chavez noted, “Our goal with this production is to teach the children of our community that it’s okay to make mistakes. 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 of Gilbert, 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.”
“I am so excited to be playing my dream role, Lucille,” added Lola Howard, 9, of Gilbert. “This has been such a great experience and I am excited to do all the shows with some old and new friends. I have also learned to work hard and try my best. This has been one of the most exciting experiences of my life!”
Among the skills they’re learning are iconic dance moves from the 1990s.
“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.”
And there are bonuses for England, too. “I love the way Savannah and Anna work together,” she said. “I’ve never seen two kids who are so supportive of one another.”
Anna Scales of Scottsdale is the other actress playing JUnie B.
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.