(Disclaimer: I was given a promotional copy of this album for review).
The Junie B. Jones book series by Barbara Park has sold over 60 million copies worldwide. Junie B. Jones fans may delight in the recently released album Junie B. Jones: The Musical cast album, (released on January 13, 2017) especially those that have attended a performance. Geared toward 3-9 year olds, the musical stars Junie B., a spunky first grader who has normal elementary school issues with friendships, classroom expectations, and getting glasses for the first time.
Marcy Heisler who teamed with Zina Goldrich for this “first ever recording of the hit musical” explains: “No matter what age you are, Junie B. and her quirky, honest, heart-on-sleeve, whip smart take on things is something sure to resonate. She reminds us we are all in first grade sometimes, even as adults- maybe even especially as adults. I think both adults and children appreciate how real Junie B’s triumphs and struggles are”
That may be, but I find this album really hard to digest. I’m generally not a fan of adults singing like kids, even when it’s a musical with kids as main characters. Admittedly, I’m reviewing the album without the opportunity to see how the play as a whole integrates with the musical numbers and perhaps that’s unfair. Part of the magic of musical theater, after all, is being in the audience and witnessing the exchange between character, narrative and audience. Even with that recognition, most of the songs are challenging to listen to from beginning to end, slickly imitating bits of other, more famous harmonies and musical styles. This can successfully serve to introduce young children to various styles of music, such as gospel (track 7) and broadway (track 9) but other kids musicals I’ve seen (Elephant and Piggie’s “We Are in a Play” comes to mind) do this in a much less annoying and more original way. There are a few exceptions- track #2 “Lucille, Camille, Chenille”, track #7 “Now I See” and track #15 “Writing Down the Story of My Life” are catchy, well written tunes. My guess is that like the Junie B. Jones book series, listeners will either really like or dislike this musical cast album. Fair or not, the album as a whole doesn’t work well enough for me to give it more than one listen.