Filichia Features: Now You Can Listen to Junie B. Jones

Filichia Features: Now You Can Listen to Junie B. Jones

By Peter Filichia on March 31, 2017

Tens of millions of children -- and about as many parents who read bedtime stories to them – have become acquainted with Barbara Park’s wildly successful Junie B. Jones series. The adventures of a girl facing kindergarten and first-grade have captivated our nation and many others.

Thanks to bookwriter-lyricist Marcy Heisler and composer Zina Goldrich, audiences can now hear in song what’s on Junie’s mind -- even if there’s no production of Junie B. Jones: The Musical slated for anyplace near.

The 15-song score is now on CD and available on Amazon. Now we’re not advocating that moms and/or dads simply send their children to bed, shove the disc into the home player and let it be a surrogate bedtime parent. No, parents: stay in the room and listen along. After a few hearings of the delightful disc, you’ll be singing along with your kids.

Park resuscitated a long-dormant word from the ‘20s – “beeswax” meaning “one’s personal business” – and gave it to Junie, who now sings about her “Top-Secret Personal Beeswax.” It fills one of those “Nothing Books” which she received as a gift. Junie sees it as “a book full of lots of empty pages I can do things to.” That sentiment is a junior version of Sunday in the Park’s George who sees “so many possibilities” on “white – a blank page.”

That Junie doesn’t view the book as intimidating or just plain boring may inspires kids to write or draw. Perhaps you’ll soon see your sons and daughters filling the book with thoughts from their own imaginations – which may well be more fertile than they might have initially thought.

Even first graders have their troubles, and Junie soon runs into one when she discovers that Lucille, her best friend from last year, now finds her “so last year.” The song “Lucille, Camille, Chenille” details the new triumvirate into which Junie is not cordially invited. Matters worsen when Junie discovers that Grace, another one-time pal, no longer wants to sit next to her on the bus.

Ah, but as a later song reminds us, “When Life Gives You Lemons,” make lemonade. Junie winds up sitting next to Herbert, and, after a charming duet, both come to the conclusion that “You Can Be My Friend.” Better still – Herbert is on track to become Junie’s First Official Boyfriend.

Her happiness is short-lived, for soon Junie learns that – horrors! – she’s going to have to wear – gulp! – glasses. To a kid, that’s as big a stigma as The Scarlet Letter. Goldrich underlines the morose mood by setting the word “glasses” to a melody as dour as the “Song of the Volga Boatmen.”

But wait! After Junie gets her glasses and reluctantly puts them on, she suddenly erupts into the joyous romp “Now I See!” via her “spectacular specs!” What a wonderful message to impart to boys and girls who have visual deficiencies: it’s worth it to wear something over your ears and nose in exchange for the privilege of really experiencing this diversified, curious, fascinating, bountiful, beautiful, beautiful world.

There are other songs just as nifty. When it’s “Time to Make a Drawing” Junie feels the pressure. “Kickball Tournament” shows us that first-graders regard it as their Super Bowl. And what can compare to the unmitigated joy of getting a new “Lunch Box” and showing it off to everyone?

That brings us to “Gladys Gutzman, Queen of Snacks” a snazzy song that will greatly amuse grandparents and even some parents who are fans of Golden Age Broadway musicals. Mrs. Gutzman, who runs the school cafeteria, enthusiastically greets the kids at lunch, which is easily the most cherished period of the school day. So such a moment deserves a jubilant song.

To the kids Mrs. Gutzman is a celebrity, so her lofty status inspired Goldrich and Heisler to give her a song worthy of a star. Just as Dolly Levi was treasured by the Harmonia Gardens waiters and Mame Dennis was revered by the Southerners who were impressed with her fox-hunt heroics, Gladys Gutzman gets a big, full-out Jerry-Herman-ish production number that celebrates her glories: “Who’s the one who makes the best macaroni? Who’s the one who keeps you full of baloney?” Why, Gladys Gutzman, of course.

And who knows? In addition to adults of a certain age tapping their toes to this musical treat that harkens to Broadway’s yesteryear, perhaps some kids might find they enjoy the classic Broadway sound, too. Junie B. Jones and her friends sure take to it, so why shouldn’t they?

Read more Filichia Features. 

You may e-mail Peter at pfilichia@aol.com. Check out his weekly column each Monday at www.broadwayselect.com and Tuesday at www.masterworksbroadway.com. His book, The Great Parade: Broadway’s Astonishing, Never-To-Be Forgotten 1963-1964 Season is now available at www.amazon.com.