Washington County Playhouse stages holiday themed Junie B. Jones show
Nearly a year after bringing beloved children’s book heroine Junie B. Jones to life on the stage of the Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children’s Theater, Shannen Banzhoff is reprising her role for the holiday production.
“Junie B. in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells,” debuts on the downtown Hagerstown stage at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 10. The show continues Saturdays through Dec. 22.
Banzhoff said the show will have some familiar elements for audience members who saw “Junie B. Jones The Musical” earlier this year.
“This show features a lot of the same students from our first Junie B. Jones musical, and this one is a few months later around holiday time. As they’re getting ready to have a holiday singalong and a Secret Santa in their class,” she said.
Chelsea Bondarenko who is returning as May agreed.
“(People) should come see it for sure if they saw the first one, because they’ll be able to relate to the story. and it’s just really fun, it sends a good message,” Bondarenko said.
But regardless of whether or not one saw the musical, “Junie B. Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” can be enjoyed by any audience.
“This show is a lot of fun, it’s got a lot of funny moments, and being on our Theater for Young Audiences stage, it’s a great introduction to theater, particularly for the younger theater audience who may not have been to a live theater performance before,” Banzhoff said.
Banzhoff, who was a big fan of Junie B. growing up, said kids are naturally drawn to the inquisitive, outspoken character.
“I enjoy how she’s kind of the kid everybody wanted to be. She’s not afraid to speak her mind, even when it gets her in trouble. She’s very strong and independent, which sometimes works out well for her and sometimes not as much. But she’s very friendly and she’s just kind of the friend that everybody wants to have,” she said.
Bondarenko said another fun aspect of the show is the timing.
“It’s very energetic. I also think there’s a lot going on in one hour’s time of the show. we’re in so many different places, so quickly, so that’s really fun,” she said.
In “Junie B. Jones The Musical,” Bondarenko played both May and Junie B.’s mother, but the mother does not appear in this play.
“So I get to just focus my time on being Bossy Head May,” she said with a laugh, noting that even with playing one character, she’s working at a frenetic pace.
“I’m running around twice as much now,” she said.
While May is a bossy kid, Bondarenko said she still has redeeming qualities.
“Especially at the end, I think (May and Junie B.) both get to be the opposite of what they were being in the show. I don’t want to give too much away, but in the show it seems she’s kind of bossy towards Junie B., but not necessarily towards other people,’ she said. “And she does mention things that her mother tells her and she is being raised to have really good values. She mentions that she’s a giver, it’s better to give than to receive, and that’s really nice, especially coming towards the holidays.”
Besides their characters in the “Junie B.” productions, Bondarenko and Banzhoff have played a multitude of characters in Theater for Young Audiences productions at Washington County Playhouse, which makes them recognizable to fans even when they’re out of character.
“I played Pinkalicious,” Bondarenko said, “and I was at Target one day, and I was just strolling through Target and a lady comes up to me and goes, ‘Do you work at the Washington County Playhouse?’ and I was like, ‘Yeah.’ She’s like, ‘You are one of our favorite actresses. We just saw you as Pinkalicious and we just loved you, and I just wanted to tell you how great you were.”
Bondarenko also said she’s been recognized for her acting chops locally at Leitersburg Cinemas.
“That’s really cool. I feel like I’m almost famous in Hagerstown,” she said with a laugh.
Banzhoff said she’s often recognized as Junie B. while working as part of the wait staff or behind the bar during other Playhouse productions.
“Often times if I’m behind the bar children and their parents will come and be like, ‘Look it’s Junie B.!’ So that’s a really neat thing especially because Junie B. was such a role model of mine growing up, it’s neat to sort of be that role model for other kids.”
Top photo: Cast members of "Junie B. Jones Jingle Bells Batman Smells," rehearse for the show, which debuts Saturday, Nov. 10, at Washington County Playhouse Dinner Theater and Children's Theater. (Photo by Amy Dulebohn)