THEATER | Junie B. in "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells" at Stages Theatre Company: "Wow!"

Cast members from Jingle Bells, Batman Smells. Photo courtesy Stages Theatre Company.

Be a giver? Or just be shellfish? That is the dilemma that Junie B. Jones has to face in Stages Theatre Company's delightful production Jingle Bells, Batman Smells, adapted from the popular series of children's books by Barbara Park.

The story begins in the first grade classroom with Junie B. facing off against her classmate and arch-nemesis, May. May has once again demonstrated her amazing tattletale talents. Through Columbus Day meltdowns and Christmas singalongs, their kind and patient teacher, Mr. Scary, tries ever so hard to get the girls to get along and share some good will...at least for the festive season. When the class gets their opportunity to shop for Christmas presents at the "Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe," also known as the school's media center, Junie B. discovers her dream toy. Choirs sing when Junie B. beholds the sparkling "squeeze-a-burp," a toy desired by all the kids in her class. Even though it's from the expensive $5 table, she devises a scheme to get her coveted toy, buy gifts for her family and give a much-deserved charcoal briquette to her secret Santa, May. But will she be "shellfish," or maybe turn into a giver after all?

jingle bells, batman smells, presented through december 27 at stages theatre company. for tickets and information, see stagestheatre.org.

Young Taylor McGahn stars as the irreverent first grader, Junie B. Jones. She is an absolute wonder. It's beyond impressive to see a kid her age carry a show with such confidence. Her castmates/classmates really seemed to enjoy being first graders again. Because, really, who wouldn't like to relive those magical days of best best friends and vomit clean-up powder? Stages newcomer Keyon Artl captures the essence and Charlie-Brown-ishness of first grader Sheldon, and Lisa Adams as the pushy and obnoxious May makes you understand Junie B.'s secret Santa dilemma. Thanks to director Sandy Boren-Barrett, the production is well-paced for kids of all ages. The show moves along quickly, and the colorful costuming keeps the kids in the audience engaged.

Junie B. does eventually discover that giving is much better than receiving, even if that means giving to those you like the least. That is what the holiday is all about, after all. And what would a holiday be without a grand finale of "Jingle Bell Rock" and a giant Christmas tree at the end? I heard an audible "Wow!" from one of my young theater-going companions. This is a terrific show for all kids, especially those that are fans of the Junie B. Jones series of books. The message is a great one for the season and one that the little ones can certainly understand.

This production is featured in the Daily Planet's complete guide to holiday theater. Throughout the holiday season, the guide will be updated with links to new Daily Planet reviews—so you'll know who's been naughty and who's been nice.
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